Zia Pueblo Spring Restoration

by | Apr 7, 2020 | Past Projects, Restoration Projects

Zia Spring Restoration 2009

On May 23rd and 24th, 2009 Rio Grande Return joined Zia Pueblo members in a project to restore a sacred pueblo spring that had gone dry. A group of enthusiastic volunteers spent two rainy days helping members of Zia Pueblo build rock dams above the spring in order to slow erosion, allow the soil to recharge with rainwater and hold moisture in the surrounding hills.



Peter Pino, former Zia Pueblo Governor, contacted Alan Hamilton of Rio Grande Return with the idea of organizing a project to restore the spring. When the group of volunteers and pueblo members gathered on the beautiful, rainy Saturday morning Pino spoke, “Mother Nature and the spirit world are showering us with rain. I personally believe that when people are coming together for a good cause that these kinds of things happen. This is good weather.”



The spring has long been an important sacred site and water source for Zia Pueblo. The water from this spring was traditionally collected during summer solstice pilgrimages, and then taken back to the pueblo. But erosion, climate change and increasing water needs have kept the spring from flowing for the last several years.



Peter Pino, former Zia Pueblo Governor, contacted Alan Hamilton of Rio Grande Return with the idea of organizing a project to restore the spring.  “It is time for people of all cultures to work together to find solutions to the effects of climate change and environmental damage. We are at a critical place, a crossroads, a threshold where we have to start living differently and more responsibly. We have to figure out a way of being more attentive to each other and to the earth”.



Hamilton recruited Steve Vrooman, a professional restoration ecologist, and two of his employees to direct the volunteers and give instruction on building rock dams.



Vrooman was optimistic about the spring’s potential to begin flowing again in a couple of years, given normal rainfall.



This was physically challenging work. Peter Callen moved many, many rocks.

Zia EB- Teamwork (compressed)


This was an opportunity for healing, not only for the land but for all the volunteers.



Most of the volunteers hadn’t known each other previous to the event but everyone united quickly in a shared purpose of environmental and cultural restoration.



The landscape and the pueblo culture had both suffered generations of abuse and neglect. A profound camaraderie developed through our shared vision and intention that was fortified by the difficulty of the work itself.


Zia EB25 Leonard takes a break

The sense of joy that accompanied the hard work was especially evident in the children. Here Leonard helps illustrate the cultural dimensions at work.



Several of the elders from the pueblo came out to support the project both in the form of encouragement, and by preparing us incredible meals.



Peter Pino, surveys the progress in a Rio Grande Return hat.



Fortunately, there was no shortage of rocks at the at the project site.


Zia EB24a Vivian catches a ride - crop

Vivian catches a ride!



After the one-rock dams are constructed, native seeds were planted in order to armor the dams and further slow the water.



Peter Pino and his granddaughter Vivian building a one-rock dam.



Jai Lakshman, former natural resource manager for Zia with two of his pueblo brothers and sisters.



The rains were welcomed and seemed to collaborate with us and never dampened our spirits.



As we were finishing up, Peter disappeared and we found him on a hillside engaged in a different kind of work.


Oscar the man

Oscar Simpson from Back Country Horseman and former Executive Director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation rakes in some native seed.



Volunteers celebrated the sight of rainwater pooling behind the dams and soaking into the hills instead of running off and taking soil with it. Here a small Zuni bowl catches some rain water.



Rain water pooling in an area that had just been seeded.



Jai and Vivian. Different generations and different cultures united in a shared vision of a renewed landscape and flowing springs.



Vivian, Jai, Olivia and Cyrus.



Kaisa Lappalainen brought a different cultural perspective and sensibility to the project along with an abundance of optimism and joy.



Ann Beckett and Sarah Sisk standing in the mud after a long day of work.



All the dedicated work led to satisfaction and joy.



The weekend was a beautiful manifestation hard work, joy and heartfelt sincerity.



Such a wonderful scene of all the activity in one little drainage. Everyone is engaged in either carrying rocks, building dam, or seeding.



Native Americans were victims of both conscious and unconscious acts of genocide from our European ancestors who justified taking their lands and the countless efforts to destroy their culture by claiming it as manifest destiny. After centuries of betrayal and abuse, it is astonishing that these same people would ask us for help and give us the opportunity to work collaborative with them to restore a spring. It was evident when we gathered around Peter and his petroglyph, that the restoration that was initiated on the landscape was taking place on many dimensions. Thank you Peter!



Food, stories and laughter highlight the meaningful connections made through a shared vision and a lot of hard work.



Former Governor Pino captures the spirit of the effort in the petroplyph he created and in the following words, “everything that we do within our lives in the pueblo has to do with realizing that we don’t have much water … We should accept the fact that we are part of Mother Earth and that we don’t own it. It’s really ownership that is a foreign concept to tribes … In the past, everything was shared by the people, the animals, the birds, the insects, the plants, all of that. If you try to assist nature, you can make things happen.”


Olivia planting native seeds



Kent Salazar from the National Wildlife Federation



Back at camp. Vivian cleaning the mud off of Ellen’s boots.



Thanks to all the volunteers and members of Zia Pueblo who came worked together for the benefit of the environment and each other.



Peter’s explains that when an important event occurs, it needs to be documented and remembered. We will all certainly remember this restoration project because of all the dimensions of restoration that were taking place simultaneously – environmental, cultural, personal and spiritual.



Peter chiseling a figure depicting Alan and the volunteers who came to help the pueblo restore their springs. What an incredible honor is was to be a part of this historic event.



Ellen and Vivian tracing Peter’s commemorative petroglyph.