The following information is taken from a collaborative brochure produced by IBWC, EBID and other partners. Additional details can be found at the IBWC website
The Rio Grande Canalization Project
Restoring Riparian Habitat┬áalong the Lower Rio Grande
In the arid West, we are all connected by┬árivers; they are the lifeblood of our land, our┬áeconomy, and our way of life. Iconic western┬árivers like the Rio Grande provide drinking┬áwater for hundreds of thousands of people and┬ásustain our local food supply and economy.┬áIn the 1940s, the U.S. International Boundary and┬áWater Commission (USIBWC) channelized the Rio┬áGrande in southern New Mexico and constructed┬álevees to minimize risk to landowners from┬áhigh flows and increase the efficiency of water┬ádeliveries to farmers and Mexico. These actions,┬ácalled the Rio Grande Canalization Project, altered┬ánatural river processes and function resulting in┬áthe loss and decline of native forest, shrub and┬ámeadow habitat along the river.┬áIn June 2009, the agency committed to restoring┬ánative trees, shrubs and grasslands on up to 30┬árestoration sites and other areas of the floodplain┬átotaling approximately 2,500 acres along the Rio┬áGrande in southern New Mexico and West Texas.
HereΓÇÖs where YOU can help.
Without water, the USIBWC cannot meet its┬árestoration goals. Because the water in the Rio┬áGrande is fully appropriated for farming, we are┬álooking for water right holders to voluntarily┬ádonate, sell, or lease their water rights for use┬áin environmental restoration. These rights will┬áprovide long-term ecological benefits at restoration┬ásites while offsetting the water consumption┬áfrom newly established riparian vegetation. This┬áarrangement allows both agriculture and the Rio┬áGrande to thrive side by side.
Before construction of the Rio┬áGrande Canalization Project,┬áthe floodplain was a mosaic of riparian habitats┬áincluding open woodlands, dense riparian shrub,┬áand wet meadows. Our river valley was filled with┬ánative plants like cottonwood trees, screwbean┬ámesquite, coyote willow, wolfberry, sedges and┬ásaltgrass. The cottonwood forests provided refuge┬áfrom the summer heat for recreation and relaxation┬áalong the river. Native riparian plants also provided┬áfood, cover and breeding grounds for abundant wildlife, songbirds, and pollinating bees and┬ábutterflies. A healthy riparian buffer also improved water quality, trapped sediment┬áand slowed floodwaterΓÇöfree services that┬ábenefited people and riverside communities.
Many of these native habitats were┬álost when the Canalization Project was┬áconstructed to control flooding and enable┬ámore efficient water deliveries. The USIBWC┬ámowed the floodplain within the levees for┬áflood control. The USIBWC constructed┬áan armored, deep pilot channel anchoring┬áthe river and eliminating the natural┬áformation of meanders and associated┬ábackwater habitat. Overbanking flows┬áduring small to medium-sized floods also┬ádeclined, eliminating a source of water for┬árecruitment and establishment of native┬áseedlings, maintenance of mature riparian┬áplants, and cycling of essential soil nutrients.┬áThese changes to the riverΓÇÖs natural flow┬ápattern allowed invasive, non-native┬ásaltcedar to thrive.
Between 2010 and┬á2014, the USBIWC,┬áin partnership with the U.S. Fish and┬áWildlife Service, pulled saltcedar from┬áhundreds of acres, and planted thousands┬áof native trees at eight of the proposed┬áthirty restoration sites. In June of 2014, the┬áUSIBWC acquired and transferred its first┬áwater rights to a restoration site just north┬áof the City of Las CrucesΓÇÖ La Llorona Park.┬áWith help from Elephant Butte Irrigation┬áDistrict (EBID), the site was irrigated twice┬áand approximately 1,500 young native┬ácottonwood and GooddingΓÇÖs Willow trees┬ánow have a better chance of surviving to
maturity. More restoration activities are┬áplanned at this and additional restoration sites between now and 2019.
How Does the Environmental Water Transaction Program Work?
The Environmental Water Transaction Program was┬ádeveloped in cooperation with Elephant Butte Irrigation┬áDistrict. It is designed to shield farmers from liability┬áunder the Endangered Species Act and exclude the upper┬áportion of the Canalizaton Project from designation as critical┬áhabitat for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. It also provides
farmers another option for the use of their water, increasing┬áflexibility in farm management and operations.
A water transaction is a voluntary agreement, in this case┬ábetween a willing seller or lessor and the USIBWC, under┬áwhich the seller agrees to sell or lease their EBID surface┬áwater rights and/or combined surface and groundwater rights┬áto the USIBWC. Water transactions can be a sale, annual┬álease, multiple-year lease or donation. Under the Program,┬áthe USIBWC will acquire water and/or water rights, at fair┬ámarket value, from willing sellers only and transfer them to the┬árestoration sites. EBID will treat the USIBWC like any other┬áirrigator. The USIBWC waterrighted┬álands will receive┬áan equal allotment per┬áacre like farmers and┬áshare pro rata in┬áshortages during┬álow water years.
ΓÇ£Water delivered to the┬árestoration sites will irrigate
riparian shrub, woodland, and┬áwetland vegetationΓÇöit is still
agriculture, but we are just┬ágrowing something different.ΓÇ¥
Vice Chair, EBID Board of Directors┬á
(2018 Current Board President)┬á