Water Resources Professional Project Reports


April Fitzner

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The current ecosystem of the middle Rio Grande is being looked at by scientists and environmentalists as a river that needs healing. Declining populations of native flora and fauna have forced public agencies to evaluate the ecosystem, which has led to opportunities to rehabilitate portions of the river in an attempt to create a healthier ecosystem. Through time, ecological changes have occurred along the river corridor due to social presence, structural changes on the river, climate and river morphology. A historical review is necessary to understand the riverine rehabilitation efforts that are being proposed today. The environmental degradation brought on by anthropogenic changes in riparian and aquatic biological communities have raised riverine wetland ecosystems to a high priority for conservation and rehabilitation in the southwestern United States. In today\'s dynamic setting for the middle Rio Grande, there are key variables that must be studied before working in the river. First, there is usually an area of interest for rehabilitation either selected by field visits or aerial photography. The temptation is to ""get out there and make it a better place"". However, because there are so many activities occurring from the microorganism level to human interface, a study of the current conditions must be understood before changing things in the river. A base line assessment could include variables such as vegetation changes, existing fish and wildlife habitat, soil and water quality and groundwater gradients and fluctuations. Hydraulic and hydrology characteristics need to be understood as well as land ownership and legal or policy issues. The middle Rio Grande history and these variables are discussed and applied toward a potential rehabilitation site located below San Acacia Diversion Dam. This stretch of the river is important habitat for two endangered species, the Rio Grande silvery minnow (Hybognathus amarus) and the southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax trailii extrimus). Because of the listing of these species, there is interest in rehabilitation efforts. Although assessing and designing potential sites specifically for these species can be achieved, looking at the ecosystem as a whole and developing a ""community ethic"" will bear greater benefits and results for these species.

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Middle Rio Grande Valley, bosque ecosystem, Endangered Species Act, floodplain analysis, exotic species, biological assessment, water law, saltcedar (Tamarix chinensis), Russian olive (Eleagnus angustifolia), Rio Grande Silvery Minnow, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, soil salinity, sediment transport, hydraulic analysis


A professional paper submitted to the University of New Mexico in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Water Resources Administration, 1998