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New Riparian Habitat along Rio Grande to Benefit Native Plant Restoration

Jul 01, 2014 11:59 AM EDT

A new riparian habitat along the Rio Grande just outside Las Cruces, New Mexico, has been established, and a dedication ceremony held Monday celebrated the move, which aims to restore native vegetation to the area.

The riparian habitat dedicated Monday is just the first created under USIBWC's Rio Grande Environmental Water Transaction Program established in June 2009. Some 30 new habitats are planned for establishment along the Rio Grande through canalization efforts, and are expected to restore approximately 2,500 acres of land. The areas run along the river beginning at Percha Dam down to the border of New Mexico and Texas.

The goal of the program is to restore trees native to the area, such as cottonwoods and willows, as well as shrubs and grasslands.

"Without water, we cannot meet our restoration goals," Edward Drusina, Commissioner of

the USIBWC, said in the agency's press release. "This arrangement allows both agriculture and native riparian habitat to thrive side by side with no impact to United States and Mexican water rights holders."

The event was the culmination of five years of cooperation between local residents, The United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC), Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), Audubon New Mexico and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

David Yardas of the NFWF, in particular, is impressed that these unlikely partners were successful in reaching an agreement after five years of collaboration to restore water to the site.

"The partnerships established to accomplish this project are another example of cooperation as the best way to solve western water conflicts," he said, adding, "It is refreshing to see cooperation between federal and local government agencies and agricultural and environmental interests on water, which is essential to both people and nature."

According to the release, the program will not only restore the river to its natural state but also overbank flows to refresh soil and enrich the habitat, as well as discontinue the mowing of vegetation along the floodplain.

What's more, in time when these new environments flourish they will provide nesting areas or wildlife, including many endangered species such as the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.

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