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Abstract: Session C  11:45 am (Back to Session C)
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A Naturalistic Approach to Watershed Restoration and Flood Mitigation

Garrett Altmann- GIS Coordinator, Project Manager
Santa Clara Pueblo, Forestry Department
Espanola, NM

Authors:  Garrett Altmann and Paula Gutierrez- Santa Clara Pueblo, NM

Santa Clara Pueblo is a federally recognized Native American Tribe located on the Rio Grande in Northern New Mexico.  Since 1998, three severe wildfires have originated outside tribal boundaries, yet have burned over 80% of Santa Clara forested lands.  Compounding these disasters, post-fire flooding devastated the Santa Clara Creek and Canyon, an area historically relied upon for recreation, economic revenue, and spiritual sanctuary.  The magnitude of these events has resulted in Santa Clara Pueblo receiving five Presidential Disaster Declarations.

Guided by the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF), Santa Clara Pueblo has embarked on a collaborative recovery strategy that is being made possible through interagency coordination and the implementation of diverse and innovative strategies. By leveraging capabilities from multiple agencies, non-governmental organizations and specialized consultants, the Tribe is able to maximize expertise in its forest and stream restoration design. This includes prioritizing innovative restoration principles to mitigate future flood events and periods of drought, while revitalizing stream habitat for reintroduction of native Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout.

Our project area is contained within the Santa Clara Creek Watershed.  Since the Santa Clara Creek is regarded as a sacred source of life, the tribe is prioritizing natural stream function in its flood mitigation and restoration design.  This includes emphasizing innovative bioengineering principles that utilize natural materials while aiming to maximize ecosystem benefits, such as promoting habitat complexity while providing long term resilience to future disturbances.  

Santa Clara Pueblo has also applied adaptive management principles to treat their landscape according to site conditions and successional trajectories.  Due to the continued risk of flooding and sediment transport, a top-down approach to treating the watershed has been implemented.  This approach reduces risk of flood damage to new treatments, while developing resiliency to future fires and floods.  

Our first designs include new infrastructure that is being designed to prioritize the natural stream system while providing roadway and bank stabilization improvements.  This includes bottomless culverts, and stream restoration activities that include utilizing on-site, natural materials to provide grade control, induced stream meandering, and fish and wildlife habitat enhancement.

The intended outcome is to create a more vibrant ecosystem that will increase resiliency while enhancing recreation opportunities and restoring the cultural value and appreciation of this watershed.