By Connie Maxwell, NM WRRI Graduate Research Assistant
The South Central New Mexico Stormwater Management Coalition (Stormwater Coalition) has identified watershed restoration as the critical underlying strategy to address flooding and sediment transport issues in the Hatch and Mesilla Valleys. Vegetation loss in upland watersheds is leading to floods that scour soils and transport sediment, which in turn clogs downstream riparian areas, agricultural infrastructure, and overwhelms downstream flood control infrastructure. Higher flow energies and decreased infiltration are diminishing water storage and supplies across the landscape, negatively impacting agriculture, communities, and ecosystems.
The Stormwater Coalition’s proposal was selected for funding by the Bureau of Reclamation through its WaterSMART Cooperative Watershed Management Program. The goal of the two-year project is to develop a community-based comprehensive watershed plan and prioritize project designs for the region. The group proposed project goals to increase collaboration to improve watershed health by keeping the water and the soil on the watershed through developing local solutions which can be implemented across the region. The planning and project design objectives are to reduce sediment transport, prevent flooding, increase upland vegetation productivity, increase upland flood flow infiltration, and increase water supply through shallow groundwater aquifer recharge from flood flows and stormwater in valleys. The group also proposes to extend its organizational development, increase collaborator development and community outreach, and assemble a diverse technical and stakeholder task force to develop the plans. The proposed project management team includes NM WRRI as project manager and planner, the Doña Ana County Flood Commission, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, the Alamosa Land Institute, and the Jornada Resource Conservation & Development Council as fiscal agent.
The Stormwater Coalition identified five main issues to address in the watershed planning and priority project design process: 1) degraded upper watersheds as indicated by increasing erosion and sediment transport is the critical underlying issue; 2) water supply: increased variability, shortfalls, and aquifer depletion; 3) urban development expansion from the El Paso/Juarez metropolitan district towards Las Cruces; 4) a need to increase watershed-scale coordination to achieve goals and reduce conflict; and 5) a need for coordinated watershed planning efforts in the newly created Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The Stormwater Coalition is a grass-roots, non-regulatory group that was established in 2010 to develop cross-agency regional watershed management collaboration with diverse stakeholders for stormwater management and to identify the watershed dynamics that affect its management. The Stormwater Coalition states on their website that because stormwater does not respect political boundaries, it has become apparent that the needs of the region would best be served by a regional watershed management approach. The partners include the regional flood commissions, soil and water conservation districts, and counties within the watershed; the Elephant Butte Irrigation District – the largest irrigation district in New Mexico; the Village of Hatch; and the City of Anthony. Collaborators extend throughout the watershed and includes farmers and ranchers; federal and state agencies; universities and associated organizations, such as the NM WRRI; watershed groups, such as the Paso del Norte Watershed Council; and municipalities.