I am temporarily residing close to the Santa Fe river, although calling it a  river may be a bit euphemistic. Santa Fe, a city that can brag about having one of the cleanest air quality readings in the world, its waters are dwindling. Even though this year the mountains received a decent snowpack, more than in recent decades, it is still below long-term average. 

Climate change consequences, especially rising temperatures have already caused disastrous effects in the state of New Mexico. Even now in time of coronavirus when we think of cleaner air as a silver lining of our current predicament, the stream, what is the Santa Fe river, reminds me of recent changes in the land due to human generated CO2 emissions leading to rising temperatures. It also reminds us to think about life beyond corona, the necessary changes in behavior we can make, starting now. 

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Looking at the river’s past, its waters irrigated approximate 1250 acres during the early 20th century, a practice that also helped to recharge its underground aquifer. Things changed when the population of the city of Santa Fe grew in the late 1940’s along with a growing demand in drinking water.  Recent droughts have added to that stress. More recently, higher temperatures and more frost-free days during winter, are  making the vegetation in the region even more vulnerable to agricultural pests and diseases. Especially the piñon tree, New Mexico’s state tree.

During the early 2000’s, severe heat, drought and beetle infestations caused massive die-offs, as many as 350 million piñons died across the West. Even if  we can slow heat-trapping emissions, the piñon are predicted to disappear by 2030. Dramatic changes in this delicate landscape.

Piñon tree are known to enhance the soil  in which it grows by increasing concentration of macro and micronutrients. Pinon nuts have always been and remain a staple food in Native American diet. An iconic tree, about to disappear.

Even if global efforts to reduce emissions succeed, the current levels of heat-trapping gases will cause the climate to warm for decades. Air and water, our lifelines. Hopefully the message stays with us.

https://www.santafewatershed.org/the-watershed/river-history/

https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/confronting-climate-change-new-mexico

https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/underlying-cause-massive-pinyon-pine-die-revealed

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