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Watershed conservation program begins Zoom forum series Sept. 9


The Master Watershed Conservationist (MWC) program kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 9, with the first of eight forums, The Future of our Watershed in the Hatch and Mesilla Valleys.

View the event on Zoom at (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85286064996). Or, visit daswcd.org/master-watershed-conservation-program for the Zoom link and to register for the forum.

The event is open to all interested persons.

The forum will feature a panel of local ecological and resource specialists who will engage in discussions with the audience on visions for the future and the needs for watershed stewardship in New Mexico’s most southern Rio Grande watershed region.

The event will also provide an introduction of the program, which aims to empower citizens to promote stewardship of local watersheds.

Through the series of forums, which will be held during the next nine months, the program will also engage volunteers in making decisions and implementing conservation projects in New Mexico’s southern Rio Grande watershed.

Connie Maxwell, from the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI) based at New Mexico State University, will provide an overview of watershed issues for the region and will moderate the panel, which will also include Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) Manager Gary Esslinger; New Mexico Department of Agriculture Sec. Jeff Witte; Las Cruces City Councilor Gill Sorg; Doña Ana County Soil and Water Conservation District (DASWCD) Board of Supervisors member Kevin Bixby, who is also director of the Southwest Environmental Center of Las Cruces; Doña Ana County Flood Commission Director John Gwynne; local rancher Steve Wilmeth; and Don McClure, assistant district manager of the Las Cruces office of the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The program comes at an important time for the Hatch and Mesilla Valley region, as watershed health is currently a critical issue for the resiliency of both our communities and ecosystems. As drought and high temperatures are causing increased aridity and stressing vegetation and rangeland health in the uplands, monsoonal rains causing scouring floods are eroding soils into the valleys and overwhelming flood infrastructure. Reduced surface water availability is increasing use of and reliance on

groundwater. As groundwater levels diminish, surface flows also decrease as they seep into aquifers that are less full, reducing stream health, at the same time the salinity becomes concentrated in the groundwater, thus irrigating with it leads to reduced agricultural productivity.

This forum is convened in partnership with the Hatch and Mesilla Valley Watershed Plan -- a South Central New Mexico Stormwater Management Coalition project with planning efforts led by WRRI – to inform the watershed plan with visions, ideas, data and issues discussed at this evening event.

Eleven community organizations have come together under DASWCD leadership to organize the Master

Watershed Conservationist volunteer program, including the Caballo Soil and Water Conservation District, City of Las Cruces, Doña Ana County Flood Commission, EBID, Natural Resource Conservation Service, New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service, WRRI, Paso del Norte Watershed Council, Rio Grande Theatre and Spring Rains Consulting.

The goal of the program is to promote the stewardship of southern New Mexico's Rio Grande watershed through equipping citizens with the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions in the planning and management of the watershed, and engaging and empowering volunteers to play leadership roles, organize educational efforts and implement conservation projects that address one or more critical conservation issues.

The MWC program is open to all persons in high school and older. The MWC program is particularly intent on recruiting persons interested in committing to volunteer to do conservation work in the Rio Grande Valley. At this time, in support of local health guidelines, the forums will be held via Zoom. Registrants will be updated regularly when conditions allow future forums to be in person. Early pre-registration for the MWC program ends Sept. 9, 2021.

For more information, visit daswcd.org/masterwatershed-conservation-program.

Master Watershed Conservationist