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Meander Cut-Off

The Meander Cutoff Project began in 2002 to address bank erosion in a reach of the main stem of the Rio Puerco south of Cuba. The project, funded by RPMC congressional money, was coordinated by Mike Chavez and designed by Bill Zeedyk. The restoration goal was to reduce the threat of bank erosion along the high walls that line much of this stretch of the river. At one particularly weak spot, two close river meanders were eating away at both the upstream and downstream sides of a high wall. If the river were to break through this weak spot completely, it would cut out a nearly 3,000-foot meander from its path. Without the stream length to slow it down and with a steeper gradient to traverse, the Rio Puerco would quickly pick up greater erosion potential. To save this large meander, a new stream channel segment was created to cut off the smaller meander that had been eroding the upstream side of the weak spot. Mark Kannon carried out the heavy equipment work, with assistance from R.W. Johnson.

Bill Zeedyk, a pioneer of low-technology, low-cost stream restoration techniques, also designed structures in the channel itself that induce the Rio Puerco flow away from high banks in the precarious bends. These structures, called post vanes, are essentially lines of ponderosa pine posts, hammered into the ground, that extend at an angle from the stream bank into the flow of the river. The size, length, and angle of the post vanes depend on stream channel characteristics and anticipated flows of the system. As the post vanes direct flow away from the banks, sediment will settle out and give vegetation an opportunity to grow. The importance of Zeedyk's structures is that they allow riparian vegetation to reestablish itself, which is ultimately what will provide true stability for the banks of the Rio Puerco.

Project construction on the Meander Cutoff was completed in early 2006. In March, Mike Chavez led a group of volunteers from RPMC, the Albuquerque Wildlife Federation (AWF), and Cuba in a revegetation effort at various points along the project reach. Volunteers transplanted an estimated 2,000 willow poles in nearly 500 feet of stream bank. Their hard work will help to jumpstart the revegetation process at the Meander Cutoff Project site.