The principle program of the RGHRP is the Riparian Stabilization and Restoration Program. The 2001 Study identified sediment input as one of the primary causes of degradation to the Rio Grande. Sediment input stems from unstable and eroding banks, caused by lateral movement of the stream channel resulting in loss of streambank stability, degradation of the riparian habitat, sedimentation in the channel, and the resultant deposition of the bedload materials downstream. This sediment loading negatively affects the condition of the fishery. Channel movement has resulted in deterioration of the riparian habitat and contributes woody debris to the system through the loss of large herbaceous plant materials. The main environmental goals of the riparian stabilization projects are to improve natural stabilization of the streambank, improve the riparian and fish habitat, enhance the function of the floodplain, and increase capacity of the river to transport sediment. Benefits of the projects are reduced sediment loading, improved fish and wildlife habitat, and reduced damage during flood conditions.
A typical riparian stabilization project includes bank shaping and installation of streambank stabilization structures. Structures include willow bundles and clump plantings, rock structures, including “J” hooks, weirs, and rock barbs, and log structures such as root wads and tree revetments. These structures move the flows away from the bank, thereby halting lateral movement of the stream channel and reducing sediment loading; this allows for vegetation to become reestablished in the riparian zones. Grazing management and bioengineering enhance the riparian habitat and further stabilize the streambank.
The RGHRP has administered six (6) cost-share riparian stabilization projects on fifty (50) sites with over $4.8 million grant funding raised. The projects aimed to improve river function using a multi-faceted approach to riparian restoration and streambank stabilization and have resulted in the treatment of over eight (8) miles of streambank. By implementing the recommendations from the 2001 Study across different sections of the Rio Grande, overall continuity and function of the river is improved. Directly, these projects benefit the participating landowners, local water users, and downstream water users. Indirectly, local, state, and regional communities benefit from the enhanced water quality, river function, riparian condition, wetlands, and habitat. These benefits stem from increased land value, water availability and quality, tourism opportunities, and habitat potential.
2004 Rio Grande Riparian Stabilization Project – Phase 2
In 2004, through partnerships with the NRCS, the RGHRP completed a cost-share riparian stabilization project with funding from the Colorado Non-Point Source Program (CO NPS) The 2004 Rio Grande Riparian Stabilization Project – Phase 2 (Phase 2) involved eighteen (18) private landowners on approximately 8,300 feet of streambank on the Rio Grande in Rio Grande County, Colorado. Matching funds came from the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) Colorado Habitat Improvement Program (CHIP), and the landowners. The total expenditures in Phase 2 were $397,000. The RGHRP has recently begun working with the Colorado Measurable Results Program (MRP), which is funded through CO NPS and Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), to transition to long-term monitoring of Phase 2.
2008 Rio Grande Riparian Stabilization Project – Phase 3
In 2008, the RGHRP received a CO NPS grant of $250,000 for the 2008 Rio Grande Riparian Stabilization Project – Phase 3 (Phase 3), to complete work on five (5) sites on approximately 9,000 feet of streambank in Alamosa County. In 2009 the RGHRP also received Colorado Water Supply Reserve Account (CO WSRA) funding of $285,000. Work on all five (5) sites is complete and monitoring is underway. Phase 3 resulted in approximately $642,000 in riparian stabilization work on the Rio Grande.
2009 Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative Project
In 2009, the RGHRP received a grant of $390,000 from the NRCS sponsored Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) program, which required non-federal funds match. After consideration, it was determined a portion of the CO WSRA grant of $285,000 could be made available as match to the CCPI grant. Therefore, the 2009 WSRA grant of $285,000 was used as match for the CO NPS grant of $250,000 and the CCPI grant of $390,000, for a total match of $640,000 federal funds. The 2009 CCPI Project is complete in Rio Grande County and twelve (12) sites on 10,000 feet were treated. The CCPI Project was completed well under budget and total project cost was $320,000.
2009 Rio Grande Riparian Stabilization Project – Phase 4
In 2009, the RGHRP received a Colorado Non-Point Source Grant of $250,000 to fund the 2009 Rio Grande Riparian Stabilization Project - Phase 4 (Phase 4) in Alamosa County. In 2010, the RGHRP was awarded $148,000 from the CO WSRA to serve as non-federal match. Phase 4 is underway on 5 sites in Alamosa County. Earthwork and rock placement was complete in Fall 2012. Contractors started revegetation efforts in April 2013.
(Call the RGHRP office at 589-2230 if you would like to tour the site during the construction)
2010 Colorado Partnership Program Project
In 2010, the RGHRP was awarded $250,000 from the NRCS Colorado Partnership Program (CPP) for work on five (5) sites in Rio Grande County. Site work is complete on all five (5) sites. The 2010 CPP Project treated 4,500 feet of streambank and cost $274,000.
2011 Rio Grande Revegetation Project
In 2010, the RGHRP was awarded $5,000 from the 2010 Colorado Healthy Rivers Fund to enhance riparian revegetation on riparian restoration and streambank stabilization project sites. A portion of these funds was used to organize two volunteer efforts on three sites in Alamosa and Rio Grande Counties. A large revegetation event was organized with a crew from the Southwest Conservation Corps. This project utilized 80 volunteer hours and 640 SCC crew hours. Through the project, groups planted 300 bareroot shrubs, 60 trees, and 558 willow bundles. They also installed 51 tree revetments. In total, 1,900 feet of streambanks were revegetated.
2012 Alamosa County Riparian Improvement Project
In 2012, the RGHRP received grants from Xcel Energy (www.xcelenergy.com
) and the Colorado State Forest Service to complete riparian revegetation and noxious weed removal on Phase 3 riparian areas in Alamosa County. In October 2012, a group of 51 volunteers from the Alamosa Boy Scouts planted 50 willow bundles on a river site owned by the City of Alamosa. Additionally, a crew of 9 young adults from the Southwest Conservation Corps was hired to compost and reseed areas with low vegetation cover and plant willows on streambanks. The crew spread 38 tons of compost, which was donated from a local compost vender, reseeded 7 acres of riparian areas, and planted 291 willow bundles. These efforts will improve the condition of habitat and vegetation cover on areas where riparian restoration was completed, but revegetation has been slow. The work at the Project sites were shared with the community during two site tours and through reports at public meetings. Noxious weed removal will take place in 2013. Matching funds for this Project came from the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and in-kind contributions came from local, state, and federal partners. The Project is an asset to the local community as it engaged community participation, employed young adults, and improved the condition of streambanks, riparian vegetation, and wildlife habitat.
DIVERSION REPLACEMENT PROGRAM
In addition to its streambank stabilization and riparian restoration program, the RGHRP has begun working with ditch companies to address concerns surrounding aging and inefficient diversion and headgate structures. The first of the projects completed through the diversion replacement program was the Plaza Planning Project – Phase 1 in the Sevenmile Plaza area of Rio Grande County.
Phase 1 was administered by a partnership between the McDonald Ditch company. The RGHRP worked with stakeholders to determine the primary issues in the area, identify remediation methods, and develop an implementation plan (The Plaza Plan) to improve the health and function of the Rio Grande in the Sevenmile Plaza area. The identified issues include streambank instability in the 2.8-mile project reach, a degraded wetland, and aging, hazardous, and inefficient diversion structures. To date, the RGHRP raised $50,000 through the NRCS CPP, $200,000 through the NRCS CCPI program, and $295,000 from the Colorado Water Supply Reserve Account for Phase 2 of the Plaza Project, the first phase of implementation of the Plaza Plan.
The success of the Program’s projects is monitored with the RGHRP Sampling and Analysis Plan (SAP), updated 2009. The SAP includes the use of Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Steam Visual Assessment Protocol (SVAP2), a once yearly bank location survey, twice yearly Stream Visual Assessments, compliance monitoring, and photographic documentation of project sites. The data gathered from these site visits is processed, analyzed, and reported annually. From this monitoring, it is possible to determine if the streambanks remain stable and hence a reduction in sediment loading has occurred, and if the riparian zones’ health and function have improved over time.
EDUCATION AND OUTREACH PROGRAM
Through public education and outreach, the RGHRP has successfully established a position in the community as a leader in addressing issues on the Rio Grande. Public outreach is preformed to raise awareness of the RGHRP and to encourage landowners to consider participating in projects. The public education and outreach component has involved the development of visual aids showing the specific project sites, conducting interviews and status reports on local radio stations, submitting newspaper articles on RGHRP and the Program’s progress, and giving presentations to local committees including the Rio Grande Interbasin Roundtable, local conservation and conservancy districts’ boards, and civic organizations. Additionally, the RGHRP and Program hold local public meetings in response to requests by interested landowners and public entities. Finally, the RGHRP has a presence at public events and festivals, such as the annual Crane Festival in Monte Vista, Colorado, to provide information about the Program.