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Our Watershed- The opportunities

Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series running over several consecutive Fridays. It is written by members of the Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance, which seeks to foster land stewardship in the Gallinas, Sapello and Tecolote watersheds.

To have adequate water supply, Las Vegas needs well designed, built and maintained water treatment, storage and delivery infrastructure. The first piece of this system is a healthy watershed to gather, clean and supply this water.
There are many opportunities to improve the quality and quantity of water our watershed can convey; securing our water supply from its source to our tap.

We need to clarify our holistic vision for the Gallinas Watershed, which includes all the critical pieces of a watershed puzzle. We can become more attentive to our watershed’s condition, learning about its ecology and ourselves in the process. We can restore a healthy watershed, while also bolstering our economy, a sustainable supply of natural resources, abundant outdoor opportunities and our community’s engagement in its future.

Restoring health to all parts of our watershed creates a wide range of opportunities. Our forests, meadows, rivers, riparian areas and floodplains all need restoration. We can improve the ways we manage livestock and agricultural production, roads, flood control and recreation use. These improvements must keep the functions of the watershed in mind. We can also improve our own understanding of how to keep our watershed healthy, hence educational opportunities.

Holistic forest management, focused on rebuilding diverse forest ecosystems, can produce healthy forests and a healthy watershed. Forest management, which balances timber production, fire protection, soil health, hydrologic cycles, forage production and wildlife habitat, ensures we have forests that meet multiple needs. Thoughtful thinning, carefully prescribed and controlled fire and long-term management plans can provide a sustainable supply of forest products, forage and water to support local economies.

Appropriately managed livestock grazing can be a part of the solution to watershed restoration work, rather than a hindrance. By developing and implementing livestock management plans that keep abundant plants in riparian areas and cover vital soil, we can improve the condition of grazed lands and also improve the health and profitability of our livestock. Renewed efforts to raise grass fed beef in the Gallinas are one example of this.

Road design, placement and construction, which accommodate flooding likely to follow large wildfires, can reduce potential negative effects on both water quality, streambank erosion and damage to infrastructure. A comprehensive road evaluation in the Gallinas Watershed is needed, followed up by making the improvements the evaluation recommends.

Restoring the health of our rivers and streams is affordable and can be accomplished using local people and resources. The Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance can supply soft engineering techniques, guidance and some financial support to do this. By building strategically placed rock and log structures in river channels we can restore meanders, reduce entrenchment and erosion and reconnect the river to its vital floodplain. We can build structures to reduce conflicts with beavers allowing them to work to restore river health at no expense. We can restore historic wetlands that have so many benefits. Restoring the drainage areas of the watershed will help reduce threats from flooding, help resolve water quality and quantity problems and increase water storage capacity within the watershed.

River restoration can also be done by protecting, replanting and carefully managing riparian and floodplain vegetation, key parts which enable river systems to do their job of storing, cleaning and delivering water to our taps.
Restored forests, rivers and valley bottoms are more aesthetically pleasing, cooler in hot summers and more enjoyable for fishing, picnicking, swimming and outdoor education.

When we, as volunteers and landowners, do this work, we become engaged in learning about how our watershed works and invested in making some of the necessary changes that help it function for the betterment of us all. Regaining personal connections to the land fosters a sense of pride and stewardship, which translates into a higher quality of life for all of us.

Watershed restoration work offers jobs and potential economic gain for our community. Locally grown produce, improved livestock management, a healthy forest industry, outdoor recreation and education opportunities all contribute to a sustainable and resilient community.

The Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance has a broad, watershed-wide perspective and helps landowners to identify opportunities to improve the health of their land in a balanced, watershed-minded manner. Our group acts as a clearing house to direct landowners to organizations that can help. We also have grant funding and recruit volunteers to get some of the work done.

Some other local agencies that offer technical and financial assistance are:
• Tierra y Montes Soil and Water Conservation District
• Natural Resources Conservation Service
• New Mexico State Forestry
• And the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

We have the power and opportunity to make positive change. Knowledge provides the techniques. Landowners provide the locations. Organizations like the Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance provide support. Our common vision to maintain healthy land and a viable water source for our community provides the motivation.

A healthy watershed and a healthy community go hand in hand, aided by an innovative vision and people willing to work. Let’s build a holistic, community based vision for Our Watershed. Stay tuned.

Next Week: A vision for a healthy watershed.