eNews January 2020

Rincon Arroyo Watershed Field Trip

By Holly Brause, NM WRRI Research Scientist

When dealing with complex water-related problems, it is often difficult to bring individuals and agencies with different perspectives and goals together to work toward a common goal. The Rincon Arroyo Watershed Field Trip, however, showed that finding common ground, and working collaboratively on creative solutions, is indeed possible and a desired goal for many in this region.

On the morning of January 22, 2020, a group of people met at the Firehouse in Rincon, NM and received a bound booklet full of maps, photos, and plans that included a preliminary watershed analysis and identified the most pressing problems in the Rincon Arroyo Watershed with some possible solutions. The field trip was sponsored by the South Central New Mexico Stormwater Management Coalition (Stormwater Coalition). The Stormwater Coalition is comprised of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, Doña Ana and Sierra County Flood Commissions, the Hatch and Mesilla Valley region’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the City of Anthony, and Village of Hatch. For the Rincon Arroyo Watershed Field Trip, the Stormwater Coalition brought together participants from agencies such as the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Bureau of Land Management and its Resource Advisory Council, the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, the International Boundary and Water Commission, and along with local farmers and ranchers.

At the first stop on the tour, the group gathered at the edge of the massive arroyo downstream close to the outlet of the Rio Grande that was full of several feet of loose sandy earth. In the distance, the group could see that the arched supports of a railroad bridge were just a few feet above the rising levels of sediment. The group leaders explained that the sediment filling the arroyo comes from soil erosion higher up in the watershed during fast-moving water runoff events like monsoon rains. When places like this one are cleared of sediment, it only takes a year or two for the sediment to return to its previous levels. The fast-moving waters and heavy sediment loads generated by storms are putting the banks of this arroyo at risk of breaching and creating devastating flood events, threatening to wash out a wastewater treatment plant and homes on one side, and a farmer’s fields on the other.

As the field trip progressed, the group stopped at several other sites to see flooding and erosional damage in the watershed and to strategize solutions. Throughout the daylong event, the group leaders emphasized the importance of restoration work in the upper watershed as a way to slow down floodwater and to reduce erosion that ends up as sediment in the Rio Grande waterways and agricultural conveyance systems. The field trip ended in the upper watershed where leaders pointed out the critical areas for restoration, and suggested approaches and techniques that are promising for the area.

Amongst such a diverse group of stakeholders and agency representatives, it was heartening to see collaboration in action. There was consensus that a large-scale watershed restoration approach is needed to create meaningful change and get at the root problems in at-risk areas. Such work, however, will require additional funding. A workshop following the field trip for interested parties to review NRCS funding sources was set for the day after the field trip.