The Nature Conservancy has proposed a project at the mouth of the Harvey Jones Flood Control Channel to improve bosque habitat by using stormwater flowing down the Montoyas Arroyo and treated wastewater from Rio Rancho’s sewage plants. Online Zoom sessions for public input about the project are scheduled for February 2, noon to 1 p.m., February 3, 5-6 p.m. and February 4, 3-4 p.m. For the Zoom link, see http://www.nmconservation.org/hjc.

The project is a collaboration among The Nature Conservancy - New Mexico, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority, the City of Rio Rancho and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as well as the Village of Corrales. The 10-acre project, if it gains final approval, would implement an idea that was floated more than six years ago: to divert at least some of the water flowing through the Jones Channel and/or effluent from the Rio Rancho sewage treatment plan on the edge of the arroyo east of Highway 528.

The Nature Conservancy’s description of the project notes that the Jones Channel carries more than 4.4 million gallons of stormwater annually to the river. And treated sewage from Rio Rancho also enters the river just south of the channel at quantities ranging from four to five million gallons daily. “By utilizing the permanent flow of water, we can re-contour the bank elevation and create secondary channels to create an expanded wet area to increase wildlife, fish and bird habitat,” according to the proposal.

The Nature Conservancy web page about the Harvey Jones Channel Improvement Project states these goals:
• to reconnect bosque vegetation to groundwater, lowering the bench elevation;
• to improve water quality as a finishing station to reduce stormwater pollution to the Rio Grande;
• to enhance bird, fish and other wildlife habitat;
• to reduce stagnant water and mosquito issues from stormwater impoundment;
• to illustrate the benefits of large-scale green stormwater infrastructure; and
• to demonstrate inter-agency coordination on a public-private partnership project.

“We want your input,” the website urges. “The project team has created a conceptual design and want to gain feedback from the local residents and recreationists who frequent that area. If you are a runner, walker, equestrian, bird watcher, community member or interested stakeholder, please join us for one of the listed community engagement opportunities.

“At each of the one-hour long events listed, members of the project team will present the conceptual plans for the area, and provide a forum for community feedback on the design.” The website includes links to participate in the three Zoom sessions on February 2, 3 and 4. The Corrales Bosque Advisory Commission has considered such a project, at least conceptually, for many years. Elsewhere in the preserve, projects have already been implemented to excavate away the river bank so that water flows, or at least seeps, into the riparian forest. The habitat plan was completed in 2010 after years of work. (See Corrales Comment’s nine-part series of articles starting Vol.XXVIII, No.7, May 23, 2009, “Bosque Preserve Habitat Plan Now Available”)

In 2010, projects similar to what is being proposed now were proposed and implemented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as elements of a “bosque restoration” effort. Faced with the coming die-off of aging cottonwoods, the Corps proposed a restoration project that would employ several methods to get river water into the woods during periods of high river flows.

Bulldozers and other heavy equipment would be called in to cut away the river bank in some locations and to excavate channels that would divert water into certain areas, as well as to dig out ponds and wetland swales.

Among the Corps’ “key project purposes” were:
• “improve habitat quality and increase the amount of native bosque plant communities… while creating greater stand diversity in terms of stand age, size and composition within the bosque (a mosaic);
• “promote bosque habitat heterogeneity by recreating pockets of new cottonwood, willow and other native species throughout the proposed action area, where root zones reach the shallow water table;
• “implement measures to re-establish fluvial processes in the bosque, including removal of non-functional jetty jacks, bank destabilization, and high-flow/side channel creations to promote over-bank flooding;
• “create new wetland habitat, while extending and enhancing high quality aquatic habitat in existing wetlands;
• “reduce the fire hazard in the bosque through the reduction of fuel loads, to include exotic species identified as hazardous;
• “recreate hydraulic connections between the bosque and the river consistent with operational constraints; and
• “protect, extend and enhance areas of potential habitat for listed species within the existing bosque.”

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