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New Mexico River Stewardship Program - Red River Restoration Project

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New Mexico River Stewardship Program - Red River Restoration Project

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Industries: Recreation and Tourism, Policy

Agencies: New Mexico Environment Department; Town of Red River, New Mexico

SUMMARY: The New Mexico River Stewardship Program provides funding to restoration projects that enhance the health of rivers by addressing the root causes of poor water quality and stream habitat. Through restoration projects, the River Stewardship Program aims to restore (or maintain) hydrology of streams and rivers to reduce flooding downstream while simultaneously enhancing economic benefits of healthy river systems for local communities.

The Town of Red River has a tourism-based economy, relying heavily on fishing from late spring through the fall. Recent wildfires combined with historic river mismanagement – ranging from wetland draining and flood plain filling to acid mine drainage – created myriad water quality and stream habitat issues in Red River. Funding from the New Mexico River Stewardship Program allowed Red River to implement river restoration work, improving the environmental and recreational quality of Red River stream segments.

Challenges

  • Though there are many stream segments deserving of restoration work, limited funding for the River Stewardship Program confines the number of projects that can be selected.
  • Fishing is a major economic driver for the Town of Red River, but mismanagement of nearby rivers and surrounding watersheds resulted in a wide, shallow river with minimal fish habitat.
  • Funding applications that lack community buy-in can lead to a project that the local community resents, meaning that restoration work may not be maintained in the future and water quality benefits could diminish with time.

Solution/Process

  • The New Mexico Environment Department established River Stewardship Program priority areas to aid in selection of restoration projects. Priority project areas include those that:
    • Address water quality and stream habitat impacts associated with wildfires from 2011-2013;
    • Facilitate source water protection of public drinking water supplies that utilize surface water;
    • Provide economic benefits to local communities;
    • Improve urban water quality and stream habitat;
    • Exhibit strong local government support for restoration project. (Though this was not a requirement, it was favored in applications.)
  • The Town of Red River had well-researched, locally-supported restoration projects planned years before River Stewardship Program funding became available, so was well prepared to apply for and utilize grant funds.
  • The Red River Restoration Project focused on stream bank stabilization, instream addition of rock and woody debris, and riparian area restoration to modify wide shallow stream segments limiting fishing productivity.
  • Once the project was completed, Red River utilized social media to promote restored fishing areas with “Share your Fishing Experience” signs in fishing areas. Anglers were encouraged to share pictures of their catch on Red River social media accounts. Additionally, informational maps and contact information regarding the restoration work were added in project areas upon completion.

Results

  • In 2014 the River Stewardship Program restored 34.6 river miles and 2,394 acres of wildlife habitat. The restoration work supported 73 contractors, 96% of which were New Mexico businesses or individuals.
  • The Red River Restoration Project solidified tourism revenues by increasing the quality of aquatic habitat and significantly improving the fish holding capacity of the river.
  • By allowing communities to apply for grant funding, a sense of connection is fostered with the restoration work. This creates future engagement in restoration efforts and ensures that, once implemented, restored river segments do not return to a deteriorated state.
  • The New Mexico Legislature authorized $2.3 million in state funds for the River Stewardship Program in 2015, which will be used by the New Mexico Environment Department to leverage $2.25 million per year in federal funds under federal Clean Water Act programs for watersheds.

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