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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

New Mexico (Section 319I - 1994)

New Mexico's water quality problems largely stem from intense grazing and timbering in high quality coldwater fisheries. In addition, the state's arid climate creates a fragile environment, difficult to mend once damage occurs.

Bluewater is Almost Blue Again

Bluewater Creek, located in the Zuni Mountains of the Cibola National Forest, suffered from the cumulative effects of years of mismanagement. Two centuries of grazing, timber harvesting, and recreation had taken their toll. Before its transfer to the U.S. Forest Service in the early 1940s, the area had been seriously overgrazed. In addition, logging had been extensive and poorly planned and roads had been located in river valleys with numerous unculverted stream crossings. As a result, the creek lacked overstory riparian vegetation, streambanks were severely incised, and the river and lake reservoir were burdened with sediment.

These severe nonpoint source pollution problems prompted the Cibola National Forest to implement a number of best management practices. They include :

  • Reforestation throughout the watershed;
  • Planting willow and cottonwoods along the creek;
  • Constructing a large sediment control dam across a major tributary;
  • Better management of cattle;
  • Constructing grade control structures throughout the upper watershed to control headcutting and gully formation;
  • Obliterating and closing roads, including a segment running through Bluewater Creek;
  • Constructing porous fence revetments to slow the water and deposit sediment;
  • Fencing off a camping and picnicking area upstream to allow foot access but prevent access by vehicles and cattle;
  • Extensive renovation of a recreation area that included eliminating roads and delineating a single road, leveling and topping parking areas with gravel to slow runoff and limit erosion, blocking vehicular access to riparian areas, planting riparian and other areas, and constructing public restrooms; and
  • Reintroducing beaver into the watershed.

Long-term water quality studies of the Bluewater Creek are being conducted as part of the Targeted Watersheds Project under the New Mexico Nonpoint Source Pollution Management Program. The purpose of the study is to determine water quality trends as a result of these best management practices.

Originally funded under section 205(j)(5), the studies came under section 319 in FY 1990 with a grant of $90,000. New Mexico has contributed $45,000. These studies show that BMPs have met with a good measure of success. In fact, the complete change in appearance of the river valley over the last few years shows the phenomenal success of several BMPs. The ephemeral river that lacked riparian vegetation--caused by more than 100 years of neglect and abuse--is now returning to a perennial river system and beginning to support thriving wetland communities and their wildlife. The BMPs implemented at a popular recreation area have also brought visible changes. Hard-packed, bare soils are now grassy; riparian grasses are lush and thriving; banks are stabilizing. The old road running along and through the river, formerly a source of sediment loading and bank destabilization, is now revegetating and is no longer visible in some places. The scars from the river crossings are healing and the banks support riparian grasses.

Severely incised banks treated with porous fence revetments are recovering. The BMP has halted bank incision and captured sediment. Revegetation has been so successful that the 6-foot high fences are hardly visible. Although plantings of willow and cottonwood have not been successful, recent riparian plantings appear to be surviving.

The reintroduction of beaver has been one of the most successful BMPs. Their prolific dam building has elevated the water table, created a lush riparian vegetation community, created thriving and expanding wetlands, and diverted flows from incised, unstable banks. In addition, the beavers' work has captured sediment, controlled flood flows, established a sustained base flow, and created a habitat for a variety of wildlife.

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