Final Report Abstract: More than half of the world’s population relies upon monsoonal rainfall that supports agriculture. While in many locations climate change is resulting in less moisture from fewer winter storms and more intense summer precipitation events, rural working landscapes (agricultural managed systems) are struggling to recover from increasingly extreme droughts and floods. The Cañada Alamosa watershed, a 420,000 acre in southwestern New Mexico (see figure 1), faces contemporary resource challenges common to the Southwest; overgrazing and fire suppression have led to a loss of deep soils and vegetative cover. This area’s traditional cultural practices of managed stormwater flooding of the historic floodplains points to significant potential of mutual incentives: watershedscale floodplain reconnection practices that benefit working landscapes that can also restore ecological health. This project documented, collaboratively designed and installed a pilot study of innovative methods of floodplain reconnection and riparian buffer establishment that addressed contemporary challenges. Community members joined to assess the practices, concluding that they can be and deciding to advocate for expanding these practices on a community and watershedscale.
The study also produced preliminary analyses of the ecosystem services that the floodplain reconnection and riparian buffer provide, including an additional source of water for irrigation from floods, reestablished natural regulating and supporting systems (including natural flood regimes), improved water quality and sediment deposition, and additional habitat provided to achieve a higher species richness, with analysis for potential increased occurrence of pest predator species and federally designated endangered species. Further work anticipates modeling the extent of practice intervention that will be required to achieve community stated goals of controlling floods, increasing productivity, improving ecosystem health, and collaborative local system with positive outside social system influences. To disseminate this metholodogy on a wider scale, we have joined a team together to focus upon accumulating data showing the extent that inhibiting evaporation – by increasing infiltration through increased vegetation cover thereby transferring water delivery underground and slowing its arrival to reservoirs – can offset the increased needs of transpiration and add to agricultural productivity through increased ecological health. We intend to build upon previous methodologies using an ecosystem service framework to identify optimal scenarios of land management practices that can increase agriculture’s viability and provide enduring sustainability; and then work with other study areas to identify how different conditions alter the method for dissemination throughout the Rio Grande basin for application throughout the Southwest.
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