By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
Public education and outreach are two of the key components that will help the Ute Reservoir Watershed Based Plan that is being developed by local and state agencies to be successful, according to private consultant Mark Murphy.
“We need to get to the children early and educate them about the importance of the watershed,” Murphy said Friday during a public meeting outlining the rough draft of a plan that is available for review.
Murphy has been working with the Canadian River Riparian Restoration Project (CRRRP), eight New Mexico Soil and Water Conservation Districts in northeastern New Mexico and 21 state and federal agencies on the watershed plan for the Ute Lake Reservoir.
Murphy said some areas of the plan still need to be refined with additional comment, which he said will help officials finalize the plan.
Murphy said the plan is being designed to improve the quality of the water at the Ute Lake Reservoir and the rivers and streams that fill it. He said development and certification of a watershed plan would make federal funding from the Environmental Protection Agency available to city, county and landowners along the Ute Reservoir.
Murphy said funding could be used for improvements that would reduce runoff from grazing or irrigation into the waterways that feed the reservoir. He said with the plan they can develop strategies to reduce the levels of pollutants such as E coli bacteria, sediment and herbicides that come from grazing, wildlife, crop irrigation and natural vegetation.
“Using grazing practices to rotate cattle and reduce the bacteria run off into the water is more efficient than taking a stick and trying to keep the ducks out of the water,” said Jack Chatfield, project manager for CRRRP.
Murphy said the plan would also include conservation measures implemented along the shore, such as eliminating water-guzzling salt cedar bushes. He said with the plan in place, anyone along the reservoir or its tributaries will be able to submit their own grant to the EPA for funding to help manage pollutants in their area and reduce restrictions in the water flow.
Ute Reservoir is part of the Canadian River Watershed, which spans 3,900 miles across six New Mexico counties, including Quay, Union and San Miguel.
“This plan will benefit everyone who has a stake in the quality of the water at Ute Lake and its use,” Chatfield said.
Murphy said part of that funding could be used toward education and outreach for local school districts and public workshops. He said schools could have hands-on projects for students to teach them how how their actions can directly affect the water shed.
Murphy said the money also would be used to start public outreach programs and workshops to help educate the entire public about the importance of maintaining and improving the watershed.
“It’s important that the public realizes that clean water starts with them,” Murphy said.