The principal program of the RGHRP is the Riparian Restoration and Streambank Stabilization 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. Such deposition also negatively affects the condition of the fisheries. Channel movement has resulted in deterioration of the riparian habitat and contributes woody debris to the system through the loss of large 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 the capacity of the river to transport sediment.
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 revegetation in the riparian zones, reestablishing natural streambank stability. Grazing management and bioengineering enhance the riparian habitat, further stabilizing the streambank. The RGHRP has worked with over sixty landowners and seven cost-share riparian stabilization projects on fifty different sites with over 4.8 million dollars raised in grant funding. This has allowed for 11 miles of streambank to be stabilized. In addition to the projects described below, this includes many of our infrastructure projects. 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. Details for each project may be found below.
For the 2015 riparian improvement project, we partnered with the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust to plant willow bundles and regrade streambank on the 4UR and Rio Oxbow Ranches in the headwaters. Some grant funding was obtained from Xcel Energy, and volunteers from the Southwest Conservation Corps were kind enough to help out with the labor.
This riparian improvement project was funded through grants from Xcel Energy, New Belgium Brewing Company, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, and the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District. Funding was used to hire a crew of 8 young adults from the Southwest Conservation Corps to complete revegetation efforts on riparian areas just north of Alamosa. In June 2014, the crew made and planted over 1,000 willow bundles on the project site. These willows will sprout roots and grow into bushes along the edge of the water, resulting in increased shade, stabilized streambanks, and improved quality of riparian habitat.
In 2012, the RGHRP received grants from Xcel Energy 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 apply compost and reseed areas with low vegetation cover and plant willows on streambanks. The crew spread 38 tons of compost, 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, however, the rate of revegetation has been slow. Noxious weed removal took 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 member participation, employed young adults, supported businesses, and improved the condition of the streambanks, riparian vegetation, and wildlife habitat.
In 2010, the RGHRP was awarded funds 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. In total, 1,900 feet of streambanks were revegetated with bare-root shrubs, trees, and willow bundles. Tree revetments were also installed.
In 2010, the RGHRP was awarded funds from the NRCS Colorado Partnership Program (CPP) to treat five sites totaling 4,500 feet of streambank in Rio Grande County.
Phase 4 completed streambank stabilization and riparian restoration on 7 sites in Alamosa County. Contractors completed construction on the final site in Fall 2014. This project improved the function of the Rio Grande by reducing sediment loading through the restoration and stabilization of 2.3 miles of riverbank, the installation of rock barbs and root wads, and the planting of willow clumps. These efforts will result in improved water quality, reduced erosion, increased sediment transport capacity, higher quality of riparian areas and habitat, and proper functioning floodplains. In 2009, the RGHRP received a Colorado Non-Point Source Grant to fund the 2009 Rio Grande Riparian Stabilization Project (Phase 4) in Alamosa County. In 2010, the RGHRP was awarded funds from the CO WSRA to serve as non-federal match.
In 2009, the RGHRP received a grant from the NRCS sponsored by the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) program, which required non-federal funds match. After consideration, it was determined that a portion of the 2009 CO WSRA grant from Phase 3 of the 2008 Rio Grande Stabilization Project could be made available as match to the CO NPS and CCPI grant. The 2009 CCPI Project was completed in Rio Grande County and twelve sites on 10,000 feet of the river were treated.
In 2008 the RGHRP received a CO NPS grant to complete work on five sites, which added up to approximately 9,000 feet of streambank in Alamosa County. In 2009, the RGHRP also received funding from Colorado Water Supply Reserve Account (CO WSRA). Work on all five sites is now complete and monitoring is underway.
In 2004, through partnerships with the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service), the RGHRP was able to complete 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, involved eighteen 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 RGHRP is 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.
The success of the Program’s projects is monitored with the RGHRP Sampling and Analysis Plan (SAP). Most recently updated in 2009, the SAP includes the use of Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Steam Visual Assessment Protocol (SVAP2), a once-a-year bank location survey, twice-a-year 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, as well as the improvement of riparian zones’ health and function.