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La Ventana

This large river restoration project is on the main stem of the Rio Puerco, just above La Ventana, on the west side of the highway and nine miles south of Cuba. The project began in the fall of 1998 as a watershed restoration concept of the Rio Puerco Management Committee (RPMC) during a public meeting held with the New Mexico Highway and Transportation Department (now NM Department of Transportation - DOT).

Partners and Funding
Partners and Funding
A collaborative team of RPMC cooperators - including staff from the State's Surface Water Quality Bureau (NMED-SWQB), Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, and the DOT, along with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Geological Survey (USGS), the Bureau of Reclamation, and other significant contributors - has closely studied the river's character and setting. The team designed and implemented a restoration and construction plan to address the heavy erosion impacts, improve river function and habitats, and protect public safety along this reach of the Rio Puerco adjacent to Highway 550. The DOT amended and expanded their original highway plans to enable the full project to proceed, by constructing two new pier-and-span bridges across the Rio Puerco. The NMED-SWQB, utilizing federal Clean Water Act nonpoint source pollution prevention funding acquired by the State via a Grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), joined with Sandoval County and the DOT to pull together the necessary project funding and matching cost shares.
Project Objectives
Project Objectives
The overall approach has been to close a straight and narrow bypass segment that was steeply channelized in the mid-1960s, and return the river to its broad and gentle-gradient natural meandering channel on the east side of the highway. That channelized segment has been responsible for highly accelerated erosion over the past 40+ years that has been estimated as removing and transporting>14.1 million cubic feet of soil, rock, and debris (enough to cover a football field and pile it up almost 300 feet high!). Some zones are no longer narrow but have been advancing toward the highway roadbase at a rate that clearly concerned DOT engineers and maintenance staff. Halting the excessive erosion and rejuvenating the streamside habitat is fully anticipated to result in improved water quality in this portion of the Rio Puerco's Upper Main Stem.
Construction and Revegetation
Construction and Revegetation
The BLM's Work Force Crews and their Cuba-based heavy equipment fleet have served as the primary construction contractors, moving impressive quantities of dirt and rock during two construction phases. The crews began in October 2004. They withstood the wet winter and spring conditions of late 2004 to early 2005 to complete most of the construction on the project's "Middle Meander" and "South Rio Puerco Bridge" sites. Work on the project resumed in November 2005, focusing on the "North Rio Puerco Bridge" zone, where the transition from the former channelized segment redirects the river's flows back into the natural channel and under the new bridges. Construction was completed in the summer of 2006.

The final phase of the project includes a number of riparian vegetation planting sessions in the redirected channel of the Rio Puerco. The first planting occurred in April 2006, when RPMC volunteers and cooperators - including Cuba-area residents, staff from the BLM's Albuquerque and Cuba offices, and AmeriCorps volunteers - spent a day in two of the three newly restored river segments. They transplanted hundreds of willow poles and installed many seedlings and containerized plants to assist the river in redeveloping riparian vegetation along its banks and restoring wildlife, avian, and aquatic habitat. Fourth graders from Cuba Elementary helped water these plants in May and transplanted hundreds of willow poles at the North Bridge site as well. Revegetation and seeding efforts, along with construction of proposed in-channel flow management structures, will expand during the fall of 2006.

Meanwhile, the heavy monsoon season of 2006 has already rewet the 2 ½ miles of newly meandering channel.