The Ranchmans-Terrell Irrigation Ditch (RT Ditch) diverts water from the Animas River in Flora Vista, NM directly downstream of the County Road 350 Bridge. The ditch association previously backed up water to their head gate using a cobble push-up dam, which had to be rebuilt three to five times a year after runoff and storm events washed it out. This created a maintenance headache, increased sediment loads and disturbance to the Animas River, and reduced water delivery reliability for the ditch users. Erosion problems continued downstream, where the irrigation ditch and ditch access road were threatened by both an eroding riverbank below and precarious sandstone bluff above. Between the diversion and south bank erosion, dense thickets of invasive Russian olive were inhibiting productive riparian habitat and posing a wildfire risk to the ditch association and local community. All of these concerns were brought to the attention of the San Juan Watershed Group (SJWG) and San Juan Soil & Water Conservations District (San Juan SWCD) in 2016, and led to this stretch of the river being included as a priority project in the Lower Animas Watershed Based Plan.
The varied problems along this stretch of river required varied funding sources – and innovative partnerships – to begin addressing these concerns. SJWG and SJSWCD, with neighboring watershed group, Animas Watershed Partnership, assembled a who’s who of federal, state, and private partners to carve up the multiple components of the project and fill in all the funding gaps. These partners and funders included the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) WaterSMART Cooperative Watershed Management Program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) acequia cost share from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS, NM Association of Conservation Districts (NMACD) and the NM Interstate Stream Commission (ISC), along with additional contributions of funds and expertise from New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), the Nature Conservancy (TNC), NM Office of the State Engineer (OSE), the San Juan Basin Recovery Implementation Program (SJRIP), and other partners.
Contractors Basin Hydrology Inc. (BHI) and Sunland Construction pushed the project over the finish line to get the work done on the ground. The final suite of projects addressed the ditch’s management concerns, while promoting river resilience and riparian habitat, safer passage of fish and boaters along the Animas River, and providing a win-win example of partner coordination, grant leveraging, and valuable coordination experience for future projects.
Project components, as detailed in the map above, include a new permanent cross vane diversion structure, relocation of the RT Ditch headgate, piping of the first 2,000+ feet of the ditch below the bluff, constructing a new flume, installing J-hook structures along erosion impacted banks, and restoration of over 3 acres of riparian area that was previously infested with Russion Olive and Tamarix species. All of the ditch improvements and revegetation are complete as of March 2021 thanks to our fantastic project partners and volunteers who assisted in the revegetation portion of the project. SJRIP will install the final piece of the puzzle in summer 2021 – a solar powered PIT-tag monitoring system to detect the presence of any tagged Colorado pikeminnow and Razorback sucker, both endangered fish species native to the San Juan Basin, whose presence in the Animas is currently unknown.
For SJWG and SJSWCD, this project drove home the critical importance of proactive communication, perseverance through delays, and strong relationships with project partners across jurisdictional boundaries, agencies, expertise, and funding sources. While challenging at times, this collaborative project will serve as an example for years to come on the benefits of a strong network of watershed partners working together towards a common goal.
For additional information on this project or to consult with the SJWG and San Juan SWCD on planning future projects, contact Alyssa Richmond, San Juan Watershed Group Coordinator at any time. We look forward to supporting and working with partners throughout the San Juan and Animas Watersheds to improve water quality and watershed health.
Phone: 505-234-6040 X3