The Rio Chama is a major branch of the Rio Grande, originating in the eastern portion of the South San Juan Mountains of Colorado, the San Juan Mountains of New Mexico, and the northern part of the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico. In addition, three tributaries of the San Juan River west of the Continental Divide, contribute almost ⅓ of New Mexico’s drinking water via the Bureau of Reclamation’s San Juan-Chama Trans-mountain Diversion Project which includes a 26-mile conveyance tunnel under the Continental Divide. These San Juan River basins are the headwaters of the Navajo River, Little Navajo River, and Rio Blanco. Native waters include the Rio Chama, Wolf Creek, Rio Chamita, Rio Brazos, Rito de Tierra Amarilla, Willow Creek, Rio Nutrias, Rio Cebolla, Rio Gallina, Canjilon Creek, Rio Puerco, Canones Creek, El Rito, and Rio Ojo Caliente as well as many other arroyos and drainages.
For various political and practical reasons, the boundaries of the region of interest for the San Juan -Chama Watershed Partnership (SJCWP) do not necessarily adhere strictly to the Rio Chama Watershed. The area is bounded on the west by the Continental Divide (the geographic feature, not to be confused with the Continental Divide Trail which is aligned in this area as much as thirty miles to the east of the actual Divide). The Divide runs through the Tribal Lands of Jicarilla Apache Nation, as well as through administrative units of the Santa Fe National Forest. Therefore, although the Continental Divide represents the western border of the Rio Chama Watershed, the SJCWP may choose to be engaged in issues that cross this boundary.
The northern boundary, as mentioned earlier, includes the San Juan River basins that contribute to the San Juan-Chama Diversion Project, yet SJCWP is also interested in lands south of the dams that are impacted by this project. In addition, the Chamita, Rio Chama, and Wolf Creek all originate in Colorado. The region is deeply integrated with drainages that feed the Rio Grande, such as the Rio Conejos and Rio de Los Pinos. Many regional issues and features span these watersheds, such as the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. Therefore, SJCWP interests extend beyond the Rio Chama Watershed boundaries on the north.
The east edge is perhaps even more vaguely defined for Partnership activities. Here the Taos Plateau mingles with the San Juan Mountains (in New Mexico), and opportunities for collaboration between the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service fall along the watershed boundary. Managers rarely utilize watershed boundaries in this area as practical project boundaries. For example, the Tusas drains to the Rio Chama, while the San Antonio drains to the Rio Grande, but the Tres Piedras Ranger District of the Carson National Forest includes them both in their Tusas-San Antonio planning unit.
The southern boundary of the region is northern edge of the Jemez and Nacimiento Mountains. Although properly and ecologically a part of the Jemez Mountains, this area has not been included in initiatives such as the East Jemez Landscape Futures or the Southwest Jemez Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. The SJCWP holds a space for issues in this region where collaborative support is welcomed. In summary, SJCWP actively participates in collaborative efforts within and along the Rio Chama Watershed boundaries, which includes working with neighboring watershed partnerships.