The “novel ecosystem” of Albuquerque’s valley ditches

The novel ecosystem that is the Los Griegos Lateral includes this very big, very old cottonwood

This morning’s Downtown Albuquerque News (some of my favorite Albuquerque journalisms, worth ever $ spent to subscribe) has an item on Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District board member Barbara Baca’s thoughts on ditchbank vegetation:

Through its vast network of irrigation ditches, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District is primarily in the water delivery business, but a big part of that job actually involves tending to the vegetation that grows next to the water. The area north of Central near the BUGarium saw a rather dramatic example of this recently when crews cleared out dozens of non-native trees along the ditch (DAN, 1/27/21) in an effort to blunt the advance of tree roots, which can erode ditch banks.

But what is good for the ditches does not necessarily look good when the job is done, and all that bare ground has lately been on the mind of MRGCD board member Barbara Baca. She told DAN that she’d like to see native grasses planted on the sides of ditches, on the theory that it would choke out tumbleweeds, discourage the growth of those problematic trees, reduce the need for ongoing maintenance, and maybe (just maybe) result in fewer of those every-obnoxious thorned goatheads.

“I think it’s just a smarter way to maintain the ditch banks – and a beautiful way too.”

Revegetation has not traditionally been a large focus of the conservancy district, she said, but she hopes to move the issue toward the front burner in the coming months.

“We need to have the conversation with the community,” Baca said. “I think there are some real possibilities.”

Where the river once meandered a broad valley flood plain, we now distribute its water through a spiderweb of channels across the developed valley floor – and in fact we have been doing so for hundreds of years. It’s a novel ecosystem, but a deeply historical one, and I love that Barbara is pushing for a mindful conversation about our desired future conditions for it.



  1. Yasmeen Najmi discussed this idea of planting the ditches with grasses back in 2018 with the Technical Advisory Group working on a management plan for the Candelaria Nature Preserve; there was discussion of perhaps trying it along the Duranes Lateral on the east boundary of the Preserve. Glad to see the idea is still alive with MRGCD

  2. There are native grasses on the TomĂ© ditch where I live, but the Conservancy sprays them with herbicide. I’d like to know which native grasses the Conservancy would welcome.

Comments are closed.