Southern Regional Water Program

Research, Extension & Education Water Quality Programs through the Land Grant University System

Watershed Management in New Mexico

An effective method for improving water quality is to enhance sediment filtering and trapping, contaminant filtering, and floodwater retention by having forest and other vegetative cover along riparian corridors.

Riparian areas are the transitional zones between aquatic (e.g., streams, rivers, lakes) and terrestrial (e.g., upland) ecosystems. The presence of water in riparian soils resulting from their proximity to water creates conditions favorable to the establishment and maintenance of vegetation that does not or cannot grow in drier, upland environments. Riparian areas have numerous ecological functions including providing wildlife habitat and generally protecting the aquatic system from upland disturbances. Riparian areas also are valued by producers for their productive soils and forage, as well as for the water present in the adjacent aquatic system.

Conditions in New Mexico

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that New Mexico has 110,741 miles of streams and rivers. Of these, approximately 8,682 miles are perennial, 99,332 miles are intermittent, and 2,727 miles are ephemeral ditches. The EPA also has identified 1,256 lakes throughout the state. The margins along most of these streams and lakes are riparian ecosystems. In an arid landscape, these riparian habitats represent critical oases for wildlife, livestock, and vegetation. It has been estimated that 80% of all wildlife in New Mexico spends at least some portion of its life cycle in riparian areas. Even in less arid areas of New Mexico, riparian systems are different enough from their upland counterparts to be considered critical habitat.

Riparian systems in New Mexico are critical for two reasons: (1) the ecological functions they serve, and (2) the value that resource managers place on them. These are often viewed as competing interests. However, responsible and sustainable management of riparian systems can and does adequately maintain the ecological functions that these systems serve. As a state that relies heavily on agriculture (both farming and ranching) for income and employment, New Mexico must seek to balance the extent to which riparian systems simultaneously serve ecological functions and provide valuable natural resources. It is the role of the New Mexico Cooperative Extension Service to educate farmers, ranchers, environmental interests and federal, state, and local agencies about ways to achieve this balance.

As a new effort within the New Mexico Cooperative Extension Service, the Riparian Management program will work with all interests to achieve objective, equitable, and scientific solutions to the challenges facing riparian resource managers. However, New Mexico is geographically, demographically, and ecologically diverse. Consequently, there is no single correct approach to managing riparian resources that function quite differently and are under very different pressures across the state. Particularly with riparian systems (which vary not only among different systems and areas, but also longitudinally within the same system or area), a site-specific, case-by-case approach should be taken to balancing resource production and ecological function. Prescriptions will range dramatically as riparian systems transition from southwestern desert to montane forest ecosystems.

Resources and Programs

The Riparian Management Program at New Mexico State University (NMSU) is designed to work with producers, natural resource managers, state and federal agencies, and other interest groups to promote and teach sustainable riparian area management. Where the current scientific literature fails to provide adequate guidance for riparian area management, research is conducted to develop the knowledge-base necessary to make informed management decisions. Given the paucity of scientific information regarding riparian area ecology and management in the arid Southwest, a significant portion of the Riparian Management Program at NMSU is devoted to research.

Extension Outreach

New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service develops and delivers educational programs designed to provide outreach into every county in the state. These outreach activities present research findings that have been developed at colleges and universities across the world and interpreted for agricultural producers. A number of programmatic outreach efforts have been developed related to riparian ecology and management. A few of these are outlined below.

Range, Riparian, Wildlife, and Erosion and Water Quality Monitoring
In response to demand from New Mexico’s ranching community, a publication was prepared to guide ranchers in developing monitoring programs to document their stewardship of the natural resources they manage.

Allison, C.A., T.T. Baker, J.C. Boren, B.D. Wright, and A. Fernald. 2001.
     Range, riparian, water quality, and wildlife monitoring for New Mexico
     ranchers. New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service,
     Range Improvement Task Force Publication 53.

Monitoring techniques were presented for rangeland riparian, wildlife and water resources. Information provided in this publication also is presented in workshops that are conducted several times each year across New Mexico and include agricultural producers, state and federal agency personnel, and other resource managers.

Riparian Ecology and Management
A number of educational programs and slide shows have been produced to introduce riparian ecology to a wide range of audiences at several levels of detail. Sample audiences for which specific curricula have been prepared include landowners and ranchers, natural resource professionals working with state and federal land management agencies, regulatory agencies, university undergraduate and graduate students, school teachers, and students 3rd through 12th grade. Similar programs have been produced to address management of arid southwestern riparian areas, particularly livestock management.

Scientific Research

Although the ecology of riparian areas in the arid Southwest has received considerable study, particularly in various wildlife disciplines, very little applied science has been conducted to help guide management decisions. Currently, several research efforts are underway to improve our understanding of the management of southwestern riparian areas. The following projects are conducted through Cooperative Extension Service and Range Improvement Task Force research efforts.

 nmwshm1.jpgRiparian Area Response to Different Seasons and Intensities of Cattle Grazing in the Gila National Forest, New Mexico
 nmwshm2.jpgFloodplain Development in a Highly Disturbed Intermittent Canyon Bottom under Different Seasons of Grazing
 nmwshm3.jpgApplication of Dairy Solids to Blue Grama Rangelands in New Mexico: Effects on Vegetation, Soils, Runoff, and Water Quality
 nmwshm4.jpgInventory and Classification of Wildfire Occurrence in Treated Versus Untreated Forest Stands on Southwestern National Forests
 nmwshm5.jpgEffects of Different Supplemental Feeding Strategies on Utilization of Salix exigua
 nmwshm6.jpgEffects of restoration of a flooding regime on a Rio Grande Bosque ecosystem
 nmwshm7.jpgNutritional Value of Selected Salix spp. at Different Times of the Year across New Mexico
 nmwshm8.jpgEffects of Simulated Grazing on Growth and Morphology of Selected Salix spp. across New Mexico

For further Information regarding the information presented above, contact:
Terrell T. "Red" Baker, Ph.D.
Extension Riparian Management Specialist
Range Improvement Task Force
Extension Animal Resources Dept.
College of Agriculture and Home Economics
New Mexico State University
Box 30003, MSC 3AE
Las Cruces, NM 88003-8003
(Off) 505-646-2218

College and University Education

Youth and continuing adult education are critical to develop new talent and human resources to address the water quality issues of the future. Educational curricula in watershed management are available within several departments at New Mexico State University. Graduate and undergraduate programs in key departments include:

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