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Rio Gallinas named one of America’s most endangered rivers

An arial view of Gallinas Village and river in northern New Mexico.
Jacob Erickson
HPWA PR Director
An arial view of Gallinas Village and river in northern New Mexico.

Northern New Mexico’s Rio Gallinas is now among one of the most endangered rivers in the U.S.

The river faces numerous threats: drought, reduced snowpack, and the fallout from the Calf Canyon/Hermit’s Peak Fire.

The Rio Gallinas boasts a diverse array of wildlife and serves both recreational and traditional uses –– including drinking water for the city of Las Vegas.

American Rivers placed the Rio Gallinas on their list of most endangered rivers because of the serious threats to drinking water, acequia agriculture, and long-term watershed health from the devastating 2022 fire season.

“Rivers are a really concentrated way of understanding how connected human health, ecological health, and water all is,” said Rachel Ellis, associate director of the Southwest River Protection Program for American Rivers. “The Rio Gallinas is a prime example of how climate change is going to continue to impact our water.”

The Calf Canyon/Hermit’s Peak fire was the largest in the state’s history and scorched a majority of the upper Rio Gallinas watershed. The following floods contaminated its water with charred soil and vegetation, causing a water emergency in Las Vegas.

Ellis said these nearby communities will continue to experience the fire’s long-term impacts unless outdated agency protocols for forest management, prescribed burning, and poor watershed management are addressed.

In 2019 and 2021, American Rivers placed the Gila and Pecos Rivers on the endangered rivers list.


1. Colorado River, Grand Canyon (Arizona):
THREAT: Climate change, outdated water management
AT RISK: Ecosystem health, reliable water delivery, regional economy

2. Ohio River (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois):
THREAT: Pollution, climate change
AT RISK: Clean water for 5 million people

3. Pearl River (Mississippi):
THREAT: Dredging and dam construction
AT RISK: Clean drinking water, local and downstream communities, fish and wildlife habitat

4. Snake River (Idaho, Oregon, Washington):
THREAT: Four federal dams
AT RISK: Tribal treaty rights and culture, endangered salmon runs, rural and local communities

5. Clark Fork River (Montana):
THREAT: Pulp mill pollution
AT RISK: Public health, fish and wildlife

6. Eel River (California):
AT RISK: Fish and wildlife, tribal culture and sustenance

7. Lehigh River (Pennsylvania):
THREAT: Poorly planned development
AT RISK: Clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, rural and local communities, open space

8. Chilkat and Klehini rivers (Alaska):
THREAT: Mining
AT RISK: Bald eagle, fish, and wildlife habitat, tribal culture and sustenance

9. Rio Gallinas (New Mexico):
THREAT: Climate change, outdated forest and watershed management
AT RISK: Clean drinking water, farming, watershed functionality

10. Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia, Florida):
THREAT: Mining
AT RISK: Fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands, water quality and flow

Bryce Dix is our local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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