Massive impacts to the environment and natural resources have occurred that greatly increase the need to take emergent and immediate, proactive measures to prevent loss of human life and property in the event of an inevitable flash flood. In addition, an inevitable reality is that the Rio Grande Watershed, including those tributaries affected by the fire, will sustain high volumes of ash, debris and sediment moving into the streams and rivers, causing a significant degradation in water quality that will effect river health and wildlife at all levels.

Downstream and downslope of the West Fork Complex fire is the San Luis Valley – 8,000 square miles of a high-desert, irrigated valley whose farms produce potatoes, barley, quinoa (for the first time since 1982 it was grown outside of South America in the San Luis Valley), cabbage, head lettuce, alfalfa, and native hay and whose ranches raise beef, sheep, hogs, goats, and buffalo (there’s even an alligator farm). The water quality impacts of a wildland fire in the Upper Rio Grande Valley and its tributaries and headwaters may prove to be devastating on the private, neighboring lands.

Upper Rio Grande Watershed Assessment

“This Assessment will give us a road map for our current watershed health and recommendations for future stewardship projects,” says Emma Regier of the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project. Many environmental challenges face the Upper Rio Grande watershed, including extended drought, forest fires, extensive beetle kill, water quality impairments, endangered species, degraded habitat, and other human-caused impacts. This comprehensive Assessment will document current conditions and will bring together watershed groups, federal, state and local entities, and private landowners.


What is RWEACT doing to protect the Watershed?

  • Provide support for the BAER team in the review of BARC (Burned Area Reflective Classification) map to determine areas of relative burn severity.
  • Coordinate to make field assessments of the burned areas to determine the highest priorities for hydrologic detection equipment.
  • Establish a list of watershed priority areas (including high hazard dams) for the installation of rain fall or water flow gauging systems to serve in the early detection of flash flood or debris flow events associated with heavy rainfall events.
  • Determine locations and priority areas for emergency mulching or seeding operations that will aide in the protection of the watershed from high level erosion of ash and debris or catastrophic erosion of stream banks, hillsides etc. associated with heavy rainfall events.