Upcoming First Forum of the New Master Watershed Conservationist Program to Discuss Visions for the Future of the Hatch and Mesilla Valley Watershed
By Dr. Connie Maxwell, NM WRRI Post-Doctoral Researcher
The forum, The Future of our Watershed in the Hatch and Mesilla Valleys, kicks off the first event of a new Master Watershed Conservationist program on September 9th, at 6:30 p.m., as an online zoom event (click here for link, and here for program information and to register). This first forum is open to the public and will feature a panel of local ecological and resource specialists who will engage in discussions with the audience on visions for the future and the needs for watershed stewardship in New Mexico’s most southern Rio Grande watershed region. Dr. Connie Maxwell from the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI), who has spearheaded this first session, will provide an overview of watershed issues for the region and moderate the panel, which will include: Gary Esslinger, Elephant Butte Irrigation District; Jeff Witte, NM Department of Agriculture; Gill Sorg, City Councilor, City of Las Cruces; Kevin Bixby, Supervisor, Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District (DASWCD) and Southwest Environmental Center Director; John Gwynne, Doña Ana County Flood Commission; Don McClure, Bureau of Land Management, and Steve Wilmeth, a local rancher with extensive rangeland conservationist experience. This first forum event will also introduce the Master Watershed Conservationist program, which aims to empower citizens to promote stewardship of our local watersheds. Through the series of eight forums scheduled over the next nine months, the program will also engage volunteers in making decisions and implementing conservation projects in New Mexico’s southern Rio Grande watershed. Ten community organizations have joined with the DASWCD to organize the volunteer program, including NM WRRI, City of Las Cruces, Doña Ana County Flood Commission, Caballo Soil and Water Conservation District, Elephant Butte Irrigation District, Natural Resource Conservation Service, New Mexico State University Extension, Paso del Norte Watershed Council, Rio Grande Theater, and Spring Rains Consulting.
This program comes at an important time for the Hatch and Mesilla Valley region, as increasing watershed health can help build resiliency, giving both the ecosystem and the community greater capacity to face significant current challenges. Drought and high temperatures are increasing aridity, which is drying upland soils and stressing vegetation and rangeland health. Less upland vegetation results in less infiltration of monsoonal rains, which then leads to increased floods that erode and carry soils into the Rio Grande valley and overwhelm agricultural and flood infrastructure. This forum is convened in partnership with the Hatch and Mesilla Valley Watershed Plan – a South Central NM Stormwater Management Coalition project with planning efforts led by NM WRRI – to inform the watershed plan with the visions, ideas, data, and issues discussed at this evening event. Many partners are joining together in this watershed planning effort to address the root of this region’s issues through building up watershed health, identifying needs for innovations, and crafting plans for short-term priorities and long-term resilience. NM WRRI is contributing to this effort and meeting improved watershed goals through leading upland and urban green infrastructure restoration projects to slow and spread flood flows to restore vegetation, reduce flood energy and erosion, and recharge soil moisture and downstream aquifers. These projects will provide key data that will help our team estimate the restoration practices’ effects. We use these estimates in innovative tools we have created to identify the best spots for restoration, how much is required to achieve goals, and what the effects could be of large-scale implementation on the regional water conditions (Maxwell et al., 2021; NMWRRI, 2020).
The Master Watershed Conservationist programs will be conducted in live online Zoom events until in-person options become more possible, which will then follow COVID health guidelines. For more information, go to the DASWCD website page for the program: https://daswcd.org/master-watershed-conservation-program/
Maxwell, C.M., Fernald, A.G., Cadol, D., Faist, A.M., King, J.P., 2021. Managing flood flow connectivity to landscapes to build buffering capacity to disturbances: An ecohydrologic modeling framework for drylands. J. Environ. Manage. 278, 111486.
NMWRRI, 2020. Statewide Water Assessment. Statewide Water Assessment. https://nmwrri.nmsu.edu/statewide-water-assessment/ (accessed 3/9/2021).