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Watershed group gets funding

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Submitted to the Optic

The Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance, a local nonprofit that addresses watershed health in the Las Vegas area and surrounding communities has been awarded funds from the New Mexico Environment Department to do a variety of projects to improve water quality and overall watershed health in the upper Gallinas Watershed.  

The two-year funding grant is for $230,000.

“HPWA has laid a strong foundation to make a big difference in the ability of the Gallinas Watershed to produce as much clean water as possible for the city of Las Vegas and the watershed’s community,” said Neal Schaeffer, NMED Project Officer.

“We are very excited that it’s finally time to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty and do the work to improve the health of the Gallinas Watershed,” said Lea Knutson, director of the watershed alliance. “We’ve done the background research, spent considerable time discussing needs and options, developed a plan and now we are ready to get to work”

The restoration projects the alliance is focused on are in the upper Gallinas Watershed; all the land that drains into the Gallinas River above the Las Vegas Diversion.

For the last two years the alliance has studied the condition of the Gallinas Watershed, examining the stream temperature impairment, river morphology and physical habitat conditions.

This past April, the Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance completed a restoration plan for the Gallinas Watershed, which was accepted by EPA and NMED in August. The plan addresses the stream temperature impairment as well as the general health of the watershed.

“Our plan identified specific concerns related to a lack of river shade, streambank erosion, stream entrenchment (down cut channel), and over widened stream channels; all problems that need remediation,” said Edward Martinez, of Highlands University and a member of the alliance’s board of directors. “River restoration work addresses these problems and has been shown to make substantial improvements in the quality and quantity of water in watersheds.”

The alliance will spend the next two years working with Gallinas residents to identify and implement projects that could help keep the waters cold enough to support a healthy river ecosystem and provide us with better water. These projects could include improvements to grazing management (water systems, fencing), planting trees, shrubs and grass, stream channel enhancements, erosion control and conservation easements — or anything else that will help keep the river cool and the water clean and abundant.

All projects will be developed together with willing landowners so everyone benefits.

The alliance is working closely with Gallinas residents on the project. “There is a lot of talk about improving the condition of our watershed; these folks are doing something about it” said Pat Galligan, a longtime Gallinas resident.

If you are a resident along the upper Gallinas River and are interested in pursuing restoration projects on your land, please contact Katie Withnall at 426-7505 to learn more about this project.  For more information visit the HPWA website at hermitspeakwatersheds.org