Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation



First Advisor

William L. Graf


Over the past four-hundred years in northern New Mexico, the Santa Fe River's evolution from clear mountain stream to dewatered urban ditch is closely tied to basin physiography and landscape processes, governmental and demographic changes, and the conflicting ideologies dividing its finite waters. This research underscores the connection between the natural system and the effects of humans in molding its past and present condition. The Santa Fe River was once the community's lifeblood, providing a means of sustenance and a sense of place. People gave the river animate qualities, treated it as a living part of the community, and shared its water equitably and beneficially. Now the often ignored, dry channel sits several feet below street-level. Past traditions of water allocation and governance via acequia (irrigation ditch) communities are starkly different from the present piping infrastructure, where river water is stored behind dams and delivery occurs at a price.

Research objectives include: (1) describing the past and present conditions of the Santa Fe River from a physical perspective, including the effects of human actions on hydrology (flow) and geomorphology (form); and (2) documenting river function throughout the last four centuries of its history, while emphasizing the role of water in the region's initial survival, subsequent growth, current prosperity, and future challenges. This research meets these objectives by applying geographic methods inherent to GIScience, hydrology, and fluvial geomorphology. The digital reconstruction of historical acequia networks, the estimation of irrigation land totals from the rectification of historical maps, and the correlation of streamflow (reconstructed from tree-ring data) to yearly irrigation potential are new methods that connect river water availability and historical events. This research also presents new hypotheses for cienega complex (wetland features) formation in downtown Santa Fe. Findings indicate the influence of acequia agriculture on river hydrology and fluvial geomorphology is underemphasized. This environmental history of the Santa Fe River presents significant findings within a framework of flow, form, and function to elucidate the dominant role of humans in transforming land and water resources at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.


© 2009, Tara Marie Plewa