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Streamflow and sediment dynamics of the Middle Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico, in the context of cottonwood recruitment

March 10, 1993

The cottonwood gallery forests of the Middle Rio Grande floodplain in New Mexico provide important habitats for birds and other animals. Over the last century, these forests have changed significantly due to invasion of exotics such as salt cedar and Russian olive, which compete with native cottonwoods, and changes in water use both in the valley and upstream.

To successfully germinate and establish, cottonwoods require an adequate water supply, abundant sunlight, and bare, litter-free substrate. Native cottonwoods are adapted to a natural snowmelt hydrograph characterized by spring floods in late May or early June and gradually receding streamflows throughout the remainder of the summer. The natural streamflow pattern has been significantly modified by water management in the Rio Grande basin. The modified pattern is less conducive to establishment of cottonwoods than the natural pattern. In addition, exotic species now compete with native cottonwoods, and the modified flow pattern may favor these exotics.

The overall objective of this study was to investigate the possibility of enhancing cottonwood establishment and recruitment along the Middle Rio Grande through streamflow manipulation and reservoir releases. The work integrates concepts of cottonwood establishment, water resources management, and river morphology, and investigates how water management might be used to preserve and enhance cottonwood gallery forests along the river. Specific objectives of the work reported herein were to: (1) develop a technique to calculate flows that will produce channel characteristics necessary to restore and sustain cottonwood gallery forests; (2) develop a model to determine a flow pattern, or sequence of flows, that will improve the potential for cottonwood establishment and recruitment; and (3) determine if the water resources can be managed to produce the desired channel characteristics and flow pattern identified in (1) and (2).

Publication Year 1993
Title Streamflow and sediment dynamics of the Middle Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico, in the context of cottonwood recruitment
Authors Robert T. Milhous, Mark Wondzell, Amy Ritter
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Index ID 70127899
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse