Conceptual Restoration Plan Update: Phase I
RELEVANT PLANS AND PROJECTS IN PROJECT AREA
Habitat restoration work in the Middle Rio Grande, including treatment of nonnative species, began as early as the mid-1980s and has been ongoing since that time. A significant number of projects have been planned and implemented in this reach since the CRP of 2004, especially by the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program and its signatories. The geodatabase is used to catalog the digital data associated with these projects, for both implemented and planned projects. Many of the projects have planning, compliance, or other documents associated with them. In addition to the habitat restoration work, strategic planning for other types of projects including water management has occurred. There are also several guiding documents that set vision, goals, objectives, and regulatory requirements for managing wildlife and their habitats.
The 2016 BiOp directs water management agencies to avoid creating jeopardy conditions for endangered species by implementing Hydrobiological Objectives; restoring river connectivity; constructing large-scale habitat restoration and enhancement projects; and conserving storage water. These measures and others specified in the 2016 BiOp will guide management activities on the Middle Rio Grande in the immediate future. In 2018, a Lower Reach Plan was released that described several projects to accomplish that goal
MRGCD plays an important role in the Project Area by providing drainage and mainstem river flood control operations and supplying water to agricultural users within its jurisdictional boundaries. The 2019 Drought Contingency Plan (MRGCD 2019) serves to increase MRGCD’s resilience to water shortages, should they occur, while meeting obligations to water users, the Rio Grande Compact, and the 2016 BiOp. The document contains not only a process for monitoring near- and long-term water availability and a framework for predicting the probability of future droughts and conducts a vulnerability assessment, but it also proposes a set or mitigation and response actions that may have bearing on other projects in the Project Area.
Riparian and wetland vegetation communities
Native bird habitat
Native fish community
Ditch and drain habitat
Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District plays an important role in the Project Area by providing drainage and mainstem river flood control operations and supplying water to agricultural users within its jurisdictional boundaries. The 2019 Drought Contingency Plan (MRGCD 2019) serves to increase MRGCD’s resilience to water shortages, should they occur, while meeting obligations to water users, the Rio Grande Compact, and the 2016 BiOp. The document contains not only a process for monitoring near- and long-term water availability and a framework for predicting the probability of future droughts and conducts a vulnerability assessment, but it also proposes a set or mitigation and response actions that may have bearing on other projects in the Project Area.
The Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) was updated in 2018 and summarizes plans and activities targeted at reducing the risk of catastrophic fire in Socorro County’s wildland-urban interface and provides coordination and guidance to first responders and their respective jurisdictions in the event of wildfire (Socorro County 2018). Risk assessments are conducted for discrete watersheds and wildland-urban interfaces within Socorro County and they are prioritized as being at high, medium, or low risk of catastrophic fire. The CWPP also presents hazardous fuel reduction programs, prioritizes fuel reduction projects, and includes strategies for firefighting.
Socorro-Sierra Regional Water Plan
Regional water planning in New Mexico is conducted to protect the state’s water resources and to ensure that each region is prepared to meet future water demands. In 2003, the NM Interstate Stream Commission accepted the initial Socorro-Sierra Regional Water Plan, which covers all of Socorro and Sierra counties, and, in 2016, the document was updated to provide new and changed information and to evaluate projections of future water supply and demand for the region using a common technical approach to all 16 regions statewide (NMISC 2016). In addition to an in-depth analysis of relevant water and environmental law, the water supply, and projected demand through 2060, the Socorro-Sierra Regional Water Plan recommends other projects, programs, and policies, many of which originated in the 2003 Water Plan and were reviewed and refocused by the steering committee for the 2016 update. While most of the proposed projects, programs, and policies differ from the other habitat restoration projects described in this section implementing them could influence and/or inform recommendations for the Task Force’s CRP update.
Tiffany Fire Rehabilitation Plan
In mid-2017, a single lightning strike ignited the Tiffany Fire near the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad bridge near San Marcial in Socorro County. The fire quickly spread through the nearby Rio Grande bosque, burning primarily in stressed tamarisk defoliated by the tamarisk leaf beetle (Diorhabda spp.). The fire also burned in mature cottonwood (Populus spp.) and willow (Salix spp.) stands. Sierra Soil and Water Conservation District (Sierra SWCD) partnered with the Task Force to identify and bring together a large group of diverse stakeholders to initiate a large-scale restoration project. Sierra SWCD was awarded funding from the New Mexico Water Trust Board for the project and this work is currently in progress. Phase 1 of this project is evaluating and prioritizing watershed restoration to address the potential for future fires within the Tiffany Fire Project Area. The long-term goal of this effort is to use natural processes such as native plant succession to accomplish this work.
The State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) was finalized in 2016 and builds upon the previous 2006 Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy for New Mexico in several important ways (NMDGF 2016). Both documents are nonregulatory planning documents developed using best available science to provide a high-level view of the need and opportunities to conserve New Mexico's wildlife and their habitats. Both documents identify species of greatest conservation need (SGCNs) for the state of New Mexico. The SWAP goes farther, however, by identifying conservation actions that could be taken to mitigate threats to SGCNs and their habitats, providing a more in-depth analysis of climate change, analyzing conservation opportunity areas, and refining ecoregion and vegetation classification schemes. The Task Force Project Area is located within the Chihuahuan Desert Level II ecoregion, where a total of 136 SGCNs are identified with birds making up the dominate taxa. The SWAP's most useful feature for project planning is its identification of threats to habitats and associated SGCNs for each ecoregion and detailed proposed conservation actions for those threats. Threats to southwest riparian forest and perennial warm water streams in the Task Force Project Area include agriculture and aquaculture, energy and mining, transportation and utilities, biological resource use, human intrusion and disturbance, natural system modifications, invasive and problematic species, pollution, and climate change.
The SECURE (Science and Engineering to Comprehensively Understand and Responsibly Enhance) Water Act of 2009 was part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, and it recognizes that climate change poses a significant challenge to the protection of adequate and safe supplies of water. Section 9503 of the SECURE Water Act authorizes Reclamation to coordinate and partner with others to ensure the use of best available science, to assess specific risks to water supply, to analyze the extent to which water supply risks will impact various water-related benefits and services, to develop appropriate mitigation strategies, and to monitor water resources to support these analyses and assessments. Chapter 7 of the report addresses the Rio Grande Basin (Reclamation 2016b). Climate change is affecting water supply, infrastructure, and management practices of the Rio Grande Basin and impacting Reclamation's ability to meet resource needs, including water allocations and deliveries for municipal, industrial, and agricultural use; recreation; fish, wildlife, and their habitats; water quality, including salinity; flow- and water-dependent ecological systems; and flood control reliability. In order to better understand these implications, Reclamation has funded and conducted four studies in the Rio Grande Basin through the Department of Interior's WaterSMART Initiative. These studies are used to define current and future imbalances in water supply and demand in the basin and subbasins over a long-term planning horizon (more than 50 years) and to develop and analyze adaptation and mitigation strategies to address those imbalances. Partners for the Upper Rio Grande Study (which includes Socorro County) were Sandia National Laboratories and the USACE. Key findings of the report, which was completed in 2013, include a projected increase in temperature with the range of annual possibility widening through time; a projected decrease in mean-annual precipitation, a projected decrease in snowpack; a projected decline in annual runoff; a shift in seasonality of runoff to more rainfall rather than snowpack accumulation; changes in the magnitude of flood peaks; a projected increase in low-flow periods; and a projected decrease in the availability of water supplies. This is all likely to lead to a greater reliance on nonrenewable groundwater resources, which has the potential to impact the Rio Grande and the riparian communities that rely on the shallow groundwater associated with the river.