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WHAT IS A WATERSHED AND WHY IS THE HEALTH OF THE WATERSHED IMPORTANT?
A watershed is an area of land in which all water drains to a common point. A watershed is an area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are linked by their common water course. Headwater areas include forested watersheds, intermountain wetlands, and riparian corridors of stream valleys, and are the natural fore bays of an areas water supply. As water from snowmelt and rain travels down-gradient to reach rivers, it must move through varying terrain, interacting with the watershed’s biology and physical environment. This is the watershed’s ecosystem. Water quality and quantity are intimately linked to watershed health.
Watershed health is a measure of ecosystem structure and function. Structure refers to species richness (characterized by abundance and diversity), inorganic and organic resources, and physical attributes (including habitat complexity). Function refers to ecosystem processes such as the hydrologic cycle, nutrient cycling, energy flow, and succession. A critical component of the hydrologic cycle is flow regime. Flow regime defines the magnitude, duration, frequency, rate of change, and timing of flows in stream systems.
This system is key to ensure that wood can be gathered and timbered.
WHY ASSESS THE HEALTH OF THE WATERSHED?
The Rio Culebra Watershed was an ideal site for settlement because of the stream systems and their connected riparian areas that crisscross the western side Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Culebra Peak by its very existence creates a microclimate that supports diverse plant communities and wooded areas, perfect for settlement of the areas acequia farms and ranches. The Culebra Watershed includes Rio Culebra, El Valle, Vallejos, and San Francisco Rivers and the tributary creeks of El Poso, Carneros, Rio Aban, North Vallejos, Rito Agua Azul, Almosito, Torcido, Jaroso, Jarosocito, and Cuates (the most commonly known).
Because of the long-term term drought, the area experienced throughout the 2000’s, the forests of the upper Culebra watershed have been stressed and created a situation that is ripe for the infestation of the spruce bud worm and spruce beetle in the upper watersheds mixed conifer forests. This situation is compounded by dry up of the connected river and stream riparian areas which affect the native plant communities and inhibit the transmissivity of crucial ground water needed to support the native grasses critical for grazing. The physical landscape features of the area should also be considered, the steep slopes and eroded alluvial material that make up the mid-terrain slopes can compound the effects of these conditions.
When we couple this with erratic climate conditions the stage is set for wild fires that will not only destroy critical wood sources used by landowners in the lower basin, but also increase the chance of water and debris flows into the populated basin below, which have the potential to impede irrigation, destroy structures and threaten the health and well being of landowners, their families, and livestock.
WHAT IS ASSESSED?
The Watershed Health Assessment puts local natural resource work into a larger context. Five components listed below are used to organize and describe the health of complex ecosystems. Each component holds a suite of health indices that summarize natural resource health.
Hydrology: The inter-relationships and interactions between water and its environment in the hydrological cycle. This includes perennial cover, impervious cover, water use, hydrologic storage and stream flow variability
Connectivity: The maintenance of pathways that move organisms, energy, and matter throughout the watershed across time and space. This includes terrestrial habitat connections, aquatic connections, riparian connections
Biology: catalogs condition of living organisms, encompassing the plant and animal species present in the stream, riparian lands, and contributing watershed. This includes species richness, terrestrial habitat quality, Stream Species Quality, and at-risk species.
Geomorphology: The state of landscape features; from their origin and evolution to the processes that continue to shape them. This includes climate vulnerability, groundwater availability, susceptibility to soil erosion and water quality. This includes the chemical, biological, and physical characteristics of water; the current condition and future susceptibility of surface water and groundwater to degradation.
WHO ARE THE STAKEHOLDERS?
There are two groups of stakeholders primary and secondary. Primary stakeholders are those directly affected by watershed function and are the decision makers. Whereas, the secondary stakeholders serve in an advisory, funding and mitigation capacity.
The Primary stakeholders have been identified as follows:
Costilla County Conservancy District, Land Rights Council, the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, Vega Board, Costilla County Commissioners, Town of San Luis, (Fire Protection, Law Enforcement, Water and Sanitation), Costilla County Conservation District, Cielo Vista, Sanchez Ditch and Reservoir, Dos Hermanos, Irrigators, and community members.
Secondary Stakeholders include: NRCS, Colorado State Forest Service, Trinchera Ranch, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Open Lands and the Roundtable.
Aside from the points mentioned above, the general population has recognized, what we in the Culebra Basin have known all along – watersheds are the lifeblood of a community and are the key support of community sustainability. With this recognition, comes the crucial piece – funding to improve conditions and mitigate dangers. The community has collected data on various conditions which can certainly be used to compare but understanding the current condition of the upper watershed is crucial. We need to know where we are today! The Costilla County Conservancy District (CCCD) has received funding to conduct a comprehensive stakeholder process. That will lead to a comprehensive assessment and a workable plan that will help to ensure the acequia future.
WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS?
The watershed plan process consists of three steps: stakeholder input and education, conduct a comprehensive assessment and then develop and implement a plan and prioritize projects.
Stakeholders -The stakeholder process will bring primary partners together to identify key areas that need to be assessed. These are followed by community input sessions where the community weighs in and a comprehensive need list is developed. These groups will also hear from watershed professionals that will identify key issues to consider. This need proposal will then be sent out to contractors as an RFP (Request for Proposals). The hope is to wrap this up by April 2019.
Assessment - Once a contractor is chosen by the primary group, the CCCD will submit funding request to complete the assessment. Once funding is secured and a contractor is hired subcommittees will help guide the assessment. The hope is to have the assessment completed by mid-2020.
Plan - once the assessment is complete the stakeholder group will work with contractor to develop a plan of actions needs will be prioritized. The CCCD will then work with partners to secure funding for projects.
WHO TO CONTACT FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
Ronda Lobato is the project coordinator for this watershed planning process. She can be reached at:
Costilla County Conservancy District
324 Main Street
San Luis, CO 81152
Phone # (719) 399-2424
efax # (719) 937-4774