Local environmental groups say the city's plan to release water into the Santa Fe River following a natural "hydrograph," or water discharge pattern, will provide ecological and cultural benefits.

In past years, water release "was managed more from a water retention or water management standpoint," WildEarth Guardians Restoration Projects Director Jim Matison says. "When snowpack was excessive and the reservoirs were getting full, they would just arbitrarily release water."

The new plan to release a large "pulse" of water in spring and summer mimics the infusion of snowmelt that seeds of native trees such as cottonwoods need to germinate. The Buckman Direct Diversion Project, which will be providing 60 percent of Santa Fe's water by spring, will help make the plan possible, as have Santa Feans' conservation efforts, Matison says.

"Our conservation efforts have reduced our need for water substantially, which has allowed us to even think about having the water for the Santa Fe River," he says.

Santa Fe has reduced its water consumption by 30 percent since 2001, according to Santa Fe River and Watershed Coordinator Brian Drypolcher.

Audubon New Mexico Freshwater Conservation Director Beth Bardwell says the water release will help native trees repopulate the river area and support the 140 species of birds that depend on the habitat.

Drypolcher and Santa Fe Watershed Association Director Felicity Broennan emphasize that although ecological effects are most important, the living river will also benefit human habitat.

"Water in the river is an important cultural component for communities who live along there," Broennan says.