The Upper Culebra Watershed Assessment is being completed to evaluate watershed conditions within the Culebra River basin and develop projects and strategies to address watershed health concerns.

The assessment approach is based on community-identified areas of concern and is evaluating a broad range of technical topics from water and streams to forest health. The Costilla County Conservancy District (CCCD) is the project lead and, with the assistance of Colorado Open Lands, was able to secure funding to complete this assessment. The field assessment began in May 2021 with boots on the ground taking measurements and evaluating conditions.

The areas of the assessment that were completed in 2021 include: riparian habitat, aquatic habitat, flow regimes, water quality, forest health, geology/geomorphology, infrastructure, and safety and emergency management. In addition, historic and current land use was assessed through one-on-one interviews and historic documents. The rangeland and wildlife assessment portions of the assessment are anticipated to be completed in 2022. With those completed, the final step of the assessment will be the stakeholder group developing projects and strategies to address watershed health concerns identified in the assessment.

The field assessment was completed throughout the summer of 2021. Below are some of the statistics showing what has been completed to date:

Eighteen field technicians from four consulting firms – RedFISH Environmenta, SWCA Incorporated, AloTerra Restoration Services, and Tailwater Limited – were involved in the assessment. Ten water quality samples were analyzed by the Bureau of Reclamation, whose services the assessment team is very grateful for. Fifty additional field parameter sites were evaluated for pH and specific conductance.

Twenty-three aquatic habitat sites were sampled including 22 macroinvertebrate samples. Detailed habitat assessment of 14,609 feet of stream including 496 pieces of large woody debris. Approximately 200 stream/road crossings were visually assessed. Thirty-nine sites were surveyed for geomorphic conditions. One hundred tree stand measurements were taken. Approximately 500 hours were dedicated to mapping riparian conditions including 38 rapid health assessment field verification points and detailed reference surveys of each of the vegetation life zones. Sixty hours spent conducting one-on-one interviews and summarizing responses. Evaluation and summary of nearly 10,000 existing and new water quality sample data. Development of a land erosion risk model for the entire basin. Post-fire debris flow for applicable areas of the basin.

During the fall of ’21 and the winter of ’22 the assessment team worked to compile data and write the final report for each assessment area. The complete assessment report is expected to be available in September 2022.

Assessment teams and review committees have been working on reviewing each of the sections, which will be combined into one comprehensive report and presentation. In addition to the report and presentation all data will be provided electronically to the CCCD to provide a basis for future work that could include assessing trends within the basin. A big thanks to all who helped identify needs, provided comments on the study plans, and participated in the stakeholder process.

This assessment is possible with funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Watershed Assembly, San Luis Valley Conservation Fund, Trinchera Blanca Foundation, CCCD, Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area, and Colorado Department of Agriculture. Staff with CCCD and Tailwater Limited will be scheduling the final presentation this fall.