Frontera Land Alliance

Water Rights for Rio Bosque Wetlands Park

“Bird’s eye view” of Rio Bosque Wetlands Park
(Courtesy of Google Maps)

Historically, the wetlands and riverside woodlands of the Rio Grande valley were the biologically richest habitats in the El Paso-Juárez region. Today, they are virtually gone. Past land and water management practices did not accommodate the needs of native ecosystems, and a vital part of our natural heritage gradually disappeared.

Over time, many people began to realize the importance of these river-valley habitats and became committed to reversing their loss. Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is a living example of that commitment.

At 372 acres in size, it is El Paso’s largest city-owned park and natural area. It is also the site of a federal wetlands mitigation project: in 1997 the International Boundary and Water Commission reconstructed the historic channel of the Rio Grande where it once meandered through the parkland. Working from a design crafted by Ducks Unlimited, the IBWC created a system where water flowing through this channel can be diverted to a series of large, shallow wetland cells.

The infrastructure for a significant wetland is in place, but to date Rio Bosque has not been able to achieve its full biological, educational and economic potential due to the lack of a guaranteed water supply during the growing season. Any wetland restoration effort in an arid region faces a great challenge: how to integrate ecosystem health with the many competing demands for water from urban, agricultural and industrial users. The way a community allocates a vital but scarce resource reflects the values and relative interests of its members.

The Frontera Land Alliance recognized an opportunity for private citizens to address Rio Bosque’s water needs. With financial support from the World Wildlife Fund’s Chihuahuan Desert Program, the land trust has embarked on a project to establish a “user-friendly” mechanism whereby landowners with unused water rights can transfer or assign their water rights to Frontera, which Frontera will then exercise at Rio Bosque. The idea is to make Rio Bosque a regular customer of El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1, and fully integrate the park into the existing irrigation network.

Once the details of the transfer mechanism have been worked out, Frontera will set about recruiting water rights holders to donate their precious resource to this community project. It will take the contributions of many people of good will to build up a sufficient supply to meet the park’s needs. If you have an interest in helping cottonwoods and willows flourish at Rio Bosque, please let us know!

For more information on Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, please visit To learn more about the World Wildlife Fund Chihuahuan Desert Program, go to