The Rio Grande State Wildlife Area (RGSWA) Restoration and Protection Project is the first step in a multi-phased effort to protect and restore important wetland, riparian and aquatic habitat surrounding the RGSWA.
The project site is located on the Rio Grande State Wildlife Area (RGSWA), just east of the town of Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley. The RGSWA includes approximately two river miles of the Rio Grande and 820 acres of diverse wetland and upland habitat. Permanent backwater sloughs, seasonally flooded tall and short emergent wetlands, wet meadows, and riparian cottonwood and willow galleries along with the active channel of the Rio Grande provide heterogenous habitat and resources for migratory birds, priority game species and several at-risk species including the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Northern Leopard Frog, and endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. These wetlands are maintained through irrigation from the Empire Canal, San Luis Valley Canal, Centennial Ditch and six artesian wells on the RGSWA. In addition, CPW uses a siphon to pass water from the Empire Canal on the west side of the RGSWA to the east side through a pipe under the Rio Grande river channel.
The project will address these concerns, protecting water delivery to important wetland and riparian habitat on the RGSWA through engineered streambank stabilization and riparian restoration throughout the project area. These efforts will ensure that the quantity and quality of available habitat for a number of at-risk species is sustained. Additionally, the project will improve riparian and aquatic habitat throughout the project area.
Rio Grande State Wildlife Area Project
Currently, the Rio Grande flowing through the RGSWA is degraded and unstable. River dynamics are eroding streambanks at an accelerated rate near water control infrastructure, threatening water delivery to the San Luis Valley Canal and the Centennial Ditch, as well as the CPW siphon. Under flood conditions, CPW Managers are concerned that the Rio Grande would wash away the siphon and change channel course, cutting off water delivery to the Centennial Ditch. This would eliminate CPW’s ability to maintain the 100 acres of wetlands that are irrigated by the siphon and Centennial Ditch. Additionally, the Centennial Ditch diversion dam serves as a barrier to non-native Pike, keeping them out of upstream fisheries. If the river were to change channel course and miss the Centennial Ditch diversion, non-native fish would be able to move upstream, threatening native fish species such as the Rio Grande Chub.