Removing Tamarisk on the San Miguel River — The Nature Conservancy

From the Nature Conservancy:

How an ambitious tamarisk removal project on the San Miguel River set the precedent for future restoration work.

TAMARISK: A THREAT TO THE RIVER
The free-flowing San Miguel River extends for 80 miles from high-alpine headwaters above Telluride, to a desert confluence with the Dolores River near the Utah border. The area is marked by Cottonwood forests with understory of willows and skunkbrush sumac and supports an array of wildlife such as great blue heron, American dipper, black swift, river otter, beaver, black bear, and mountain lion.

In 2005, a watershed-scale conservation plan developed by the Conservancy and partners identified the invasion of non-native species specifically tamarisk, Russian olive, and Chinese elm as the highest threat to the riparian vegetation along the San Miguel River.

Tamarisk replaces native vegetation, and accumulates high concentrations of salts in the soil, threatening plant and animal species and local economy dependent on the river and riparian systems. Removing tamarisk and other nonnative woody plants from riparian corridors improves water quantity and quality, and restores the health of native vegetation.

AN AMBITIOUS GOAL
In response to this, the Conservancy designed a restoration plan and set an ambitious goal of making the San Miguel the first tamarisk-free river system in the Western United States, something that had never been tried before. Working with community members, landowners, the Bureau of Land Management and local government officials, the Conservancy educated stakeholders on the benefits of the project for the river ecosystem and garnered support from almost everyone in the watershed.

Starting in 2007, the project took seven years to complete. While not reaching the goal of a fully tamarisk-free river system, the woody invasive species abundance is drastically reduced in all of the areas that were treated. Analysis done in 2014 has shown that the removal work was a success and minimal continued management is needed.

A MODEL FOR RIPARIAN RESTORATION
“This comprehensive project was a first of its kind in the western United States and has become a model for large scale riparian restoration,” said Terri Schulz, director of landscape science and management for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado.

Efforts have expanded to projects on the Dolores River and prompted the establishment and expansion of groups such as the Tamarisk Coalition. By thinking about this work in the context of the whole watershed, the Conservancy was able to reach out to a wide variety of partners to provide leadership and manpower to the project and to grow the capacity for this work moving beyond the San Miguel watershed.

As the Conservancy plans for future restoration efforts, the tamarisk removal project on the San Miguel River provides an outline for how to successfully work together with communities, landowners and the government to complete projects and reach largescale conservation goals.

Tamarisk Coalition Receives Funding — WesternSlopeNow.com

Colorado National Monument from the Colorado River Trail near Fruita September 2014
Colorado National Monument from the Colorado River Trail near Fruita September 2014

From WesternSlopeNow.com (Andy Chilian):

The Tamarisk Coalition announces they recently received two grants on the behalf of the Desert Rivers Collaborative that will greatly help their cause. Tamarisk officials say grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Bacon Family Foundation, totaling more than $200 thousand, will allow the coalition to continue streamside restoration efforts in the Grand Valley.

It is projected that approximately 70 acres of additional riverside habitat will be restored, thanks to $175 thousand from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and $30 thousand from the Bacon Family Foundation. The funding will be used to pay different crews and contractors to use native plantings for re-vegetation and remove tamarisk, an invasive plant from the Eurasia region, as well as Russian olive, a thorny shrub and small tree that have overtaken a lot of riverside area.

In addition, the funding will tremendously aid in reducing wildfire risk and improving river function, soil conditions, and water quality, and ultimately improve our local habitat for fish and wildlife.

“The overall goal is to improve riparian health here in the Grand Valley, and it’s a continuation of projects that have been going on for several years,” says Shannon Hatch with the Tamarisk Coalition.

Funding from the Bacon Family Foundation will also allow the hiring of an intern to assist with project mapping, maintenance efforts, data management, technical assistance, community outreach, and engagement.

CMU: Tamarisk beetle (Diorhabda spp.) in the #ColoradoRiver basin — synthesis of an expert panel forum

tamariskbeetlestudyreport

Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:

In 2001, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the release of a biological control agent, the tamarisk beetle (Diorhabda spp.), to naturally control tamarisk populations and provide a less costly, and potentially more effective, means of removal compared with mechanical and chemical methods. The invasive plant tamarisk (Tamarix spp.; saltcedar) occupies hundreds of thousands of acres of river floodplains and terraces across the western half of the North American continent. Its abundance varies, but can include dense monocultures, and can alter some physical and ecological processes associated with riparian ecosystems.

The tamarisk beetle now occupies hundreds of miles of rivers throughout the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB) and is spreading into the Lower Basin. The efficacy of the beetle is evident, with many areas repeatedly experiencing tamarisk defoliation.

While many welcome the beetle as a management tool, others are concerned by the ecosystem implications of widespread defoliation of a dominant woody species. As an example, defoliation may possibly affect the nesting success of the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus).

In January 2015, the Tamarisk Coalition convened a panel of experts to discuss and present information on probable ecological trajectories in the face of widespread beetle presence and to consider opportunities for restoration and management of riparian systems in the Colorado River Basin (CRB). An in-depth description of the panel discussion follows.

panelfindingtamariskbeetlecmurepor012016

The panel concluded that as the tamarisk beetle moves into the Lower Colorado River Basin (LCRB), the selection of management actions to support a transition to a healthy riparian system will depend on the unique suite of characteristics of each sub-basin and the goals of basin managers.
The panel emphasized the importance of basin-specific planning, the necessity of monitoring and inventorying to inform management, and that adaptive management practices will be essential for success relative to varying goals. The panel developed a framework to assist managers in selecting appropriate management strategies and identified future research needed to further inform restoration approaches and management decisions.

2014 Tamarisk leaf beetle distribution map via the Tamarisk Coalition
2014 Tamarisk leaf beetle distribution map via the Tamarisk Coalition

The Arkansas Roundtable ponies up $194,000 for multi-use project

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Can a water project be all things to all people?

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District wants to find out.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable approved a $194,000 grant last week to determine if irrigated agriculture, environmental, recreation, municipal supply, hydropower and aquifer storage can be satisfied in one project.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will consider final approval of the grant at its March meeting.

The project involves the 200-acre Lake Ranch near Salida, which the district owns.

Right now, the property is irrigated by a center- pivot sprinkler, but the plan is to expand the types of uses to include a hydropower system on the Cameron Ditch above the property, recharge ponds and wetlands on two corners of the field which are not being used and research on another corner. Farm structures occupy the remaining corner of the field.

In addition, a leasefallowing program would provide water to nearby cities, and results would be used in educational programs.

“This is the smaller program, to see if some of these ideas work,” said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Ark district.

If they do, a much larger project on Trout Creek that would cover 1,800 acres and could provide an additional 20,000 acre-feet in storage would be attempted.

That would be a boon to the Upper Ark district, which formed in 1979 to improve water use for numerous smaller entities in Chaffee, Custer and Fremont counties. Past studies have looked at improving how water supply is measured, the availability of underground storage and developing a leasefallowing tool to measure consumptive use when transfers occur.

“Multiple purpose projects are necessary for providing additional needed water supplies in the 21st century,” the district noted in its grant application.

Purgatoire River
Purgatoire River

More Arkansas Roundtable coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Several ditches along the Purgatoire River are in line to get a much-needed $271,000 makeover through a state grant approved last week by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

The roundtable approved a $90,000 grant request to improve structures on six ditch companies that have deteriorated through erosion. The ditches, along with the Purgatoire Conservancy District, will contribute $121,000 and apply for a $60,000 loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The CWCB still must act on the grant and loan at its March meeting.

“All of the ditches are in the Trinidad Project,” said Jeris Danielson, manager of the Purgatoire district. “We estimated we could lose 10 percent of the water.”

The ditch companies include Picketwire, Enlarged Southside Irrigation, Chilili, Baca, New John Flood and El Moro. All are located in the Trinidad area of Las Animas County.

The project will rebuild headgates, flumes and culverts at various locations. As part of the project, about 1,000 feet of bank along the Purgatoire River will be restored and stabilized.

The Trinidad Project is a federal project that relies on water stored in Trinidad Reservoir. Over the last 20 years, it has averaged only 40 percent of its full supply. The improvements will restore about 5,000 acre-feet (1.6 billion gallons) annually toward basin water needs, according to the application.

Tamarisk
Tamarisk

Finally, here’s a report about efforts to mitigate flooding in La Junta from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

An $85,000 plan to remove a “pinch point” in the Arkansas River that has caused flooding in North La Junta got the blessing of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable this week.

The roundtable approved a $25,000 grant toward the project by the North La Junta Water Conservancy District to deal with a problem that has persisted since a flood in the spring of 1999. Other funding is being provided by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Otero County and La Junta.

The grant will take out several islands of tamarisk, or saltcedar, using a drag line and reconfigure dikes that apparently only aggravated flooding through the area. Combined, the projects will increase the channel capacity of the Arkansas River through North La Junta.

“This is one of my favorite projects because we did it with one engineer and no lawyers in the room,” quipped Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

The 1999 flood did serious damage to North La Junta, and the district has worked steadily since then to improve channel capacity through the area. Floods in recent years have renewed fears that past efforts were not as effective as hoped.

In another move, the roundtable approved a $48,000 grant toward a $54,800 project to replace a domestic water supply pipeline that serves about 175 families in the McClave area. The grant helps hold down water rates for customers in an area that eventually will be served by the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will consider final approval of the grants at its March meeting.

Tamarisks: They’re back . . . they never left — The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Just because there hasn’t been as much talk about tamarisk lately doesn’t mean the invasion is over. Now, talk has begun again, but the message has changed.

Eradication is out; control is in.

While tamarisks, or saltcedars, are watergulpers, a fully grown tree uses only about 20 gallons a day, not 200 gallons as mistakenly was often reported in the past.

And trees should be taken out for a reason, and with a plan, not just because they are bad invaders.

Those messages have been conveyed twice in the last week by the Tamarisk Coalition to area conservancy districts. Based in Grand Junction, the group incorporated in 2002. The group works with other organizations to improve habitat, not just wipe out saltcedars.

“In a nutshell, what we do is help people restore rivers. We’re focused on that,” Stacy Beaugh, executive director of the Tamarisk Coalition, told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board last week. “You can’t just cut them down and walk away.”

She assured the Southeastern board, which took the lead in earlier tamarisk removal programs for the Arkansas Valley, that Southeastern Colorado remains a high priority.

A few days later, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District heard from Rusty Lloyd, program director with the Tamarisk Coalition.

Lloyd explained that the group no longer is concerned with completely removing the trees, many of which were purposely planted for erosion control. But it supports efforts to remove pockets of the plant where possible and natural controls such as beetles to knock back the numbers.

“The beetle can weaken the plants, and some plants don’t come back,” Lloyd said. “It seems to be doing its job, but it’s sporadic.”

Lloyd said there are water quantity and quality benefits from removing tamarisk, but the purpose for any program should look at other issues such as improving wildlife habitat. A plan should be in place to replace tamarisk with more beneficial species.

“There are lots of invasive species we are concerned with,” Lloyd said. “We don’t blindly advocate people tearing out plants. You need to have a purpose.”
Past efforts to remove tamarisks have not always worked and sometimes cleared the way for other invasive species to take hold.

“We learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes,” Lloyd said.

DARCA: Invasive Species Workshop and Float Trip

Tamarisk
Tamarisk

From email from the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance (John McKenzie):

Hello DARCA Members –

I am attaching the finalized agenda for our workshop and float trip on Sep 24-25. We are in the process of opening up participation to non-DARCA members so please register this week to secure a spot. You may go to the DARCA website to register and will need the code, 6JILB409. (Look under the Workshops tab)

Will see some of you in a couple of weeks.

If you have any questions, please give me a call.

Regards,

John McKenzie
Executive Director
Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance
1630A 30th St., #431
Boulder, CO 80301

Tel: (970) 412-1960

Waterlines: Tamarisk and our changing riverbanks — Grand Junction Free Press

Colorado National Monument from the Colorado River Trail near Fruita September 2014
Colorado National Monument from the Colorado River Trail near Fruita September 2014

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Gigi Richards):

It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon and you’re on the Riverfront Trail, pedaling your bicycle along the Colorado River, and suddenly there are orange caution signs and the pavement turns to gravel. What happened? Is the path being improved, or new utilities being installed? Probably not. Most of the time, when you see gouges in the river bank leaving the paved bike path unsupported, or even missing, the Colorado River is responsible.

Flooding rivers have a lot of power to do an amazing amount of work. A flooded river can move gravel, and larger stones, reshaping the riverbanks. The work that rivers do is beneficial, such as maintaining spawning gravels and side channels for native fish to flourish, and depositing nutrients on the floodplain. However, sometimes that swift current, chewing away at the banks, undermines man-made structures that are located in the floodplain, like bike paths.

Back in the late 1800s, Westerners were frustrated with losing valuable farm and ranch land to fast moving rivers and decided to do something about it. A common strategy for protecting a river’s bank from erosion was to dump junk along the bank – large chunks of concrete, rubble, bricks, and old cars. Another strategy was to plant tamarisk, an invasive plant, along the streams to help stabilize the riverbanks.

Tamarisk, a remarkable plant, has colonized many rivers in the Southwest and has become a nuisance. The list of tamarisk’s vices is a long one. Dense tamarisk stands have stabilized the banks and locked these rivers into a single-thread channel, an unnaturally stable position. Tamarisk’s deep taproot allows a thicket of tamarisk to extend farther from the river than native riparian forest, which may take more water from the river. It forms a monoculture, out-competing native plants and leaving behind a salty duff on the ground that’s not conducive to the growth of other plants. It resists all attempts to remove it, being resilient in the face of floods, droughts and fires.

In the last five years, efforts to remove tamarisk have ramped up as restoration of our river corridors and preserving water have become higher priorities. But what does the removal of this bank stabilizing plant mean for our managed river systems? If we remove tamarisk will the rivers erode their banks with renewed vigor?

The answer is not so straightforward, and like many questions related to the functioning of natural systems, “it depends.” The bank material, the removal method, the vagaries of weather, and the presence of upstream dams all affect whether tamarisk removal will result in increased bank erosion or not. Some studies have shown dramatic channel change following tamarisk removal, for example on the Rio Puerco, New Mexico, and other studies show little, such as in the Canyon de Chelly in Arizona.

Ongoing research, conducted by Colorado Mesa University and the Tamarisk Coalition, into this question will help us understand some of the complexity of the interaction between tamarisk removal, and the potential destabilizing response of the river. Over the last two years, the Colorado River channel has been surveyed prior to tamarisk removal at three sites in the Grand Valley. The river will be resurveyed, after the next high spring snowmelt, and changes in the channel will be studied. In addition, historic aerial photographs are being analyzed to understand how the river has moved historically in areas where tamarisk was removed and where riparian vegetation remains.

As population grows demands on our water supply will increase. We strive to support healthy watershed and riparian areas and tamarisk removal efforts will continue. Better understanding of how rivers respond to tamarisk removal will be useful in designing effective riparian restoration and tamarisk removal efforts. So, when you come across gravel sections along the bike path, you can appreciate the hardworking Colorado River, doing its job, moving sediment and eroding its banks, whether tamarisk removal played a role, or not.

Gigi Richard, Ph.D. is Professor of Geosciences at Colorado Mesa University. For more information on the Tamarisk Coalition and their current projects visit, http://www.tamariskcoalition.org/programs/projects-monitoring

More tamarisk control coverage here.