Officials at the groundbreaking ceremony for Santa Ana’s new restoration project. (L to R) Dr. Ron Kneebone; Santa Ana Lt. Governor Glenn Tenorio; U. S. Corps of Engineers Lt. Colonel Dana R. Hurst, District Commander; and Santa Ana Governor Myron Armijo.
The construction of a Gradient Restoration Facility
at Santa Ana Pueblo by the Bureau of Reclamation.
Pueblo of Santa Ana initiates restoration projects
The Pueblo of Santa Ana, in partnership with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, held a groundbreaking ceremony on November 14 to initiate the Rio Grande Riparian Restoration and Rio Jemez Weir projects. The restoration project is funded through a Corps program to improve environments impacted by previous flood-control projects. The projects will restore a more normal, broad, shallow, and braided river channel on the Pueblo of Santa Ana. The weir project is funded through a separate partnership between the Corps and the pueblo which was formed to assess and mitigate the impacts of draining the Jemez Reservoir.
According to Matthew Wunder, director of the Santa Ana Department of Natural Resources, these projects represent a continuation of ongoing pueblo efforts to restore the river and riparian vegetation to more natural conditions. Dam construction, for flood control, on the Rio Grande has trapped sediment in Cochiti Reservoir. The clear water released from Cochiti scours the channel causing it to deepen and narrow. As the channel incises, the water flows faster and continues to deepen the channel. This is quite different from the broad, shallow, braided channel characteristic of the Rio Grande before flood control. As the channel deepens, the water table drops and the limited spring floods cease to overflow the river banks, isolating the bosque from the flows needed to sustain it. The deep narrow channel is not suitable habitat for the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow.
Wunder said that the pueblo is working with the Corps to install two low sheet-pile and riprap gradient-restoration facilities that are designed to raise the riverbed. The sheet pile backs up water causing it to spread out and create a stretch of shallow water. The river flows over the sheet pile and across riprap that is designed to produce a shallow grade that minnows can navigate. The combined effect is to produce a stair-step effect with gentle grades in between. Downstream from the second GRF, a riprap structure is installed to protect the GRFs from channel incision moving upstream from off the pueblo.
A second phase, still in the planning stage, will lower some of the sand and gravel bars and banks in the active floodplain. This will promote over-bank flooding, which contributes to silvery minnow habitat during floods and recharges the groundwater that will help support the native bosque vegetation. Native willows will be planted on the lowered over-bank areas, providing additional habitat for the endangered Southwest willow flycatcher. In other areas of the inactive floodplain, the pueblo has been actively removing and controlling the salt cedar and Russian olive that have come to dominate the area. Depending on the mix of native and invasive species, manual, mechanical, or chemical means are used to control the exotics. The combination of channel and overbank modification and control of nonnative vegetation can help to restore natural conditions. However, completely natural conditions can never be regained because of the existing flood-control activities. The best that we can hope for now is a wider, slower, and shallower river on the Pueblo of Santa Ana reach of the river.
Wunder explained that the Jemez Weir addresses a different problem. When the Corps could no longer store water in the Jemez Reservoir, the exposed sediments began to erode. The channel cut into the sediments and began to lower the water table from where it was when water was in the reservoir. As the water table drops, it threatens the native bosque vegetation that has developed upstream of the reservoir since the dam was constructed. The native vegetation is threatened and could be replaced by salt cedar and Russian olive. A low sheet-pile weir is being constructed to arrest channel incision and keep the channel bed at the same elevation that permitted the native bosque to form. According to Wunder, the weir is needed to protect the native trees and shrubs with shallow roots from being displaced by salt cedar.
“These projects will help to protect the Rio Grande and associated bosque that are so much a part of the lives of the members of the Pueblo of Santa Ana,” said Matt Wunder. “We at the pueblo want to thank the Corps of Engineers for their support and hope that these projects are just the beginning of a broader effort to help restore more natural conditions and ecological processes in the river and associated riparian areas throughout the Rio Grande here in New Mexico.”
Final New Mexico state water plan coming soon
The final New Mexico water plan should be completed by the first of the year, as mandated by Governor Richardson. It will be the basic blueprint for policies of the Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission. The state legislature must adopt portions of the plan before they become law. State engineer John D’Antonio called the plan a broad-brush strategy that will still be open to change and public comment.
The plan does not deal directly with population growth and development, but it does stress financial incentives for conservation. It says that water needs to cost more and needs to be metered. The plan gives the state engineer the power to deny requests for domestic well in areas where groundwater pumping would affect other water rights and where there is insufficient supply.
Traditional uses, like farming and acequia systems, will be protected by the plan. If there are shortages, junior water rights would be restricted first; however, the plan encourages negotiated settlements by which everyone shares the impact of the drought.
Water banking is also encouraged. Farmers would no longer lose water rights if they choose not to irrigate. These rights could instead be sold on a short-term basis. Critics worry that not enough has been done to protect traditional uses and that water banking could lead to the further commodification of water.
The OSE is understaffed and underfunded. It has its hands full with the adjudication of the state’s stream systems and meeting interstate compact obligations. Add to this metering, enforcement, water banking, dealing with Indian water-right claims, and protecting endangered species. It’s going to cost a lot of money. Regional and special interests will make legislative action very difficult.
The sixty-six page draft of the plan is available on-line at www.seo.state.nm.us. Go to Water Information, then New Mexico Water Planning, then State Water Planning. Since the November 14 deadline for public comment on the draft has now passed, you may want to wait for the final version before printing out the plan.
Salt cedar: friend, foe, or excuse for agency and corporate control
Folks in the Cerrillos area who are opposed to the Army Corps of Engineer's salt cedar (tamarisk) eradication proposal at the Galisteo damn have been passing around a recently published book called Invasion Biology, Critique of a Pseudoscience to gain support for their position. The book, written by conservation biologist David Theodoropoulos, is an indictment of the invasive species "hysteria" that guides not only land management agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers but the academic community as well. According to Theodoropoulos, current attempts to categorize certain species as "native," "alien," "invasive," "irruptive," and "aggressive" is "subjective, superficial, and entirely unbiological." Even more disturbing is his analysis that this language closely resembles that which racists and nationalists use to categorize people on the basis of skin color and rationalize wars on people and nature. Theodoropoulos believes that the pseudoscience of invasion biology is being used by corporations and governments to control the world's diversity and resources.
The Army Corps of Engineers held a public information meeting in August to present its plan to eradicate salt cedar at the Galisteo Dam by spraying the herbicide Arsenal by helicopter. The Dam project is part of a statewide-program to get rid of the so-called "water sucking" salt cedar in New Mexico water systems that they claim threatens our ability to meet Rio Grande Compact deliveries to Texas. The state legislature has already allocated funding for spray programs on the Pecos (184.57 miles have been sprayed) and the Rio Grande (15,000 acres).
Many residents of the Galisteo basin are opposed to the plan and are able to cite extensive analysis and evidence that refutes the Corps' rationale for the spraying:
- There is no hard evidence that salt cedar eradication actually saves much water. A USGS evaluation determined that there is no conclusive evidence that the eradication of salt cedar increased Pecos River flows.
- Despite eradication programs, salt cedar consistently regenerates and monitoring and restoration are essential. However, areas sprayed with Arsenal cannot be disturbed for three years, preventing further treatment.
- Helicopter spraying of Arsenal also kills beneficial plants and soils and may harm area wildlife.
- Herbicide and regulatory agencies are exploiting invader fears to get contracts for eradication. The herbicide industry intensively lobbied for the chemical spraying program in the Pecos and little consideration was given to other alternatives, particularly goats (see La Jicarita article on Lani Lamming, June 2002).
Jan-Willem Jansens of Earthworks, an organization that has been involved in Galisteo watershed restorations, concurs with this assessment: "The Republican administration is funneling a lot of money into the Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is essentially special interest spending, and these agencies in turn are in bed with the herbicide industry." He believes that because "we have tinkered so much with our landscapes and waterways" salt cedar is one of the only species that can grow in the basin.The agency's plan to eradicate salt cedar on 200 acres, what Jansens calls "symptom mitigation", is only the first step in what may be a many-thousand-acre project, and he thinks the agency should undertake an Environmental Impact Statement to analyze cumulative impacts on soils, wildlife populations (the willow flycatcher, an endangered species, lives in salt cedar), archeological sites, people's health, and economics.
Michelle Goodman is an artist who has lived in Cerrillos for 22 years. In the mid-80s she actually made her living off salt cedar, harvesting and selling the stems to interior decorators and furniture makers. When she first became aware of the Corps project, she "bought into the mythology that salt cedar wastes water and that it chokes out 'native species.' But then as my neighbors and I began to educate ourselves and to have rigorous conversations about it based on our personal observations, I began to realize that a lot of what the Corps was saying and newspapers were reporting was propaganda."
While she is not as opposed to any salt cedar removal as some of her neighbors, she says, "I now have a huge mistrust of the information that's out there and the whole eradication program.The notion that getting rid of it will allow us to come up with our water obligation to Texas is ridiculous. I think Earthworks, which has been working in the Galisteo basin for years, has a much better program for restoring waterways."
Goodman shares Theodoropoulos' reservations about the terms invasion biology uses: "What constitutes 'native?' At what point do we consider something native or not native? People are now saying that juniper is not native. Does that mean we're going to go out and eradicate all the juniper? It reminds me of the war in Iraq. We're going to go in and eradicate these 'evil' plants but there's no plan for what we're going to do to replace them. You can't go in for three years after spraying Arsenal. What then?"
This article is reprinted from La Jicarita, November 2003.