top of page

The Lower Embudo Watershed

The Rio Embudo and Rio Pueblo watershed spans nearly 200,000 acres on the western flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the northern Rio Grande bioregion in New Mexico. The headwaters originate on some of the highest peaks in the state and the Rio Embudo empties into the Rio Grande in the village of Embudo. The downstream half of the watershed area containing the Rio Embudo is known as the Lower Embudo watershed (see map below) or Embudo Valley. However, this part of the watershed includes high mountain drainages as well, such as those of the Cañada del Ojo Sarco and the Rio de las Trampas. The upper watershed with the Rio Pueblo includes the headwaters around the Angostura and Santa Barbara drainages.

The Lower Embudo watershed is part of the ancestral lands of the Northern Tiwa-speaking Picuris Pueblo and is well known for its traditional, acequia-fed irrigated agriculture and orchards, deep rooted Hispano community, artist community, and rugged, rural landscape. Much of the land, however, has a wilderness character with narrow sandstone canyons, rocky outcrops, hidden wetlands, woodlands and forests, and shrub and cactus plateaus. Periods of severe drought alternate with seasons with abundant rainfall and flooding.  The threats of aridification, wildfire, flooding and erosion pose serious challenges to the community and its economic systems.

Interactive map showing the Wetlands Action Plan area in blue and the larger Lower Embudo Watershed in red. 

Lower Embudo

Ecotone Initiatives

Upon invitation by local acequia leaders, Ecotone began working in the Lower Embudo watershed in 2012, continuing Earth Works Institute’s work that began in 2009. Initially, Ecotone’s work focused on community engagement through several hands-on projects aimed at environmental health and safety. These included a large trash cleanup initiative, experiments with the removal of invasive trees without using herbicides, erosion control and sediment management, and wildfire prevention through thinning of some small parcels in the bosque along the Rio Embudo. Ecotone also led a series of erosion control and wetland restoration projects and the improvement of the headgate system for the Acequia de la Plaza.

Key Issues:


News & Announcements

Arroyo La Mina Wetland Restoration- In the summer of 2023, Ecotone started a new wetland restoration project in the Arroyo La Mina, south-west of Dixon. The project will take place over a length of about 1,200 feet along the arroyo that is located on State Trust Land. Project partners include the NM State Land Office, NMED Surface Water Quality Bureau, and Embudo Valley Regional Acequia Association. Project implementation will take place between October 2023 and March 2024. For more information, see here

Wetland and Woodland Restoration- During the fall of 2023, contractors working with Ecotone will work in several wetland areas and in pinyon-juniper woodlands in the Lower Embudo valley area on woodland thinning, erosion control, and wetland restoration work. Please stay on the lookout for hands-on workshop announcements, which will likely take place on October 21, 28, and/or November 4. 


Ecotone was recently awarded EPA Clean Water Act funding to continue to build on previous work in the Embudo Valley, this time focusing on springs and wetlands located on State Trust Land. The  project area encompasses scattered springs, seeps, slope wetlands, and riverine wetlands. Throughout the project area, springs and wetlands have been degraded in the last century due to channel modifications, extreme weather conditions (drought and flash floods), erosion, grazing impacts, mining, wood removal, wildfire, off-road vehicle traffic, and/or Russian olive and tamarisk encroachment. The project goals are to reduce sediment loads and erosion, halt headcuts and channel degradation and raise the channel elevation, restore native riparian and wetland vegetation, remove invasives where it is feasible to do so, and to protect the riparian areas, seeps, springs and wetlands from identified impacts. The project will also create a Wetlands Action Plan, as further detailed  below.

Click on the image to the right to view the public presentation summarizing the project. 

A recording of a recent community meeting further detailing the project can be viewed, here


Restoring Springs and Wetlands in the Lower Embudo Valley

Anchor 1
Anchor 2

Piñon-Juniper (PJ) Ecosystems

PJ woodlands and savannahs dominated by two-needle piñon, one-seed juniper, and Rocky Mountain juniper cover nearly half of the Lower Embudo Watershed area. At higher elevations, such as around Ojo Sarco, Las Trampas, and Picuris Pueblo, the woodlands depend on winter precipitation, are relatively dense, and presumably have a low fire frequency. At lower elevations on rocky and gravelly soils, more open woodland types occur with sparse grasses, cacti, and yucca . Where the soil is fine-sandy and loamy, more grass is present, and the ecosystem has a savannah character with more widely spaced clumps of trees. These areas have a higher risk of more frequent wildfire as the grasses and shrubs readily carry fire. 

PJ ecosystems have been an agricultural landscape type for thousands of years. Up to the present, people use this landscape for hunting, firewood gathering, piñon nut harvesting, and grazing. From an ecological viewpoint, the PJ woodlands and savannas have an important function as water infiltration and soil retention areas. Healthy PJ ecosystems ensure that springs keep flowing, erosion and downstream sedimentation is limited, and flash floods are rare.




Forest Management Planning and Implementation

Between 2014 and 2017, Ecotone supported a collaborative, multi-jurisdictional initiative led by the Forest Stewards Guild which resulted in forest management planning documents for the Lower Rio Embudo watershed (see brown outline on the map above). Between 2015 and 2020, the New Mexico State Land Office, Camino Real Ranger District on the Carson National Forest, and  BLM Taos Field Office, respectively issued decisions for forest treatments for each of their jurisdictions.


Between 2015 and 2017, Ecotone supported a forest and woodland restoration project on State Trust Land east of Dixon and on Copper Hill, to the west of Picuris Pueblo, led by the Forest Stewards Guild. Funding came from the US Forest Service Collaborative Forest Restoration Program with in-kind support from the New Mexico State Land Office and various local entities. The project pioneered the utilization of thinned wood products in soil stabilization through the construction of wooden erosion control structures and lop and scatter of slash. The project also provided firewood to local woodcutters who worked with the project team. As of 2020, a follow up project on State Trust Land east of Dixon expanded the previous project with treatments across more than 75 acres of a 300-acre treatment area in a collaboration between Wood Sharks, LLC, Ecotone, and the New Mexico State Land Office (more information under Woodlands).

bottom of page