Dalton Canyon Creek Water Quality Improvement

In November 2018, the Upper Pecos Watershed Association (UPWA) was awarded a Clean Water Act (CWA) 319 (h) grant for a proposal on the Dalton Canyon Creek area.

Project Description

A wildfire broke out in the summer of 2002 in Dalton Canyon and burned a large portion of the north facing slope on the south side of the canyon from the entrance to the canyon to approximately 2 miles in. Wildfires are known causes of salinity, and thus increased conductivity, in mountain streams . Also, as minerals in local soils are leached out as a result of erosion and are transported by precipitation runoff into the creek, they contribute to salinity and conductivity. No specific studies have been carried out in Dalton Canyon to positively identify the source, or sources of conductivity impairment; however, it is highly likely that erosion in the canyon is a significant contributor. Downstream of the project area, sedimentation and turbidity as a result of precipitation runoff are known impairments in the Pecos River. The UPWA Watershed Based Plan describes these issues in more detail in Chapter 3, pp. 46-47.

Tall eroding banks in several reaches contribute sediment due to bank erosion.  These banks are an artifact of the 2013 flood event that dumped 13 inches of rainfall overnight in September, the same storm that caused damage in Colorado’s Front Range.  In addition, the WBP has identified a large amount of sediment (9 tons/yr) coming from dispersed camping areas along Dalton Creek, these will be managed and modified to mitigate this erosion and sedimentation.

Project Goals

The numerical achievement criterion for pollutants in Willow, Macho, Dalton Canyon, and Glorieta Creeks would be the standard of 300 µS/cm or less for the Pecos River Basin.  This would be achieved by the implementation of bank erosion restoration projects and the restoration of stream geomorphology in selected locations.

All four project locations have user-created access routes to the Dalton Creek.  The project would focus on exclusion in one area (Site 4), restoration and erosion management of two sites (2,3) and limiting access at Site 1.  Runoff that is now flowing directly from these unmanaged roads and parking areas would be captured in basins, diverted to harmless locations or limited by the use of wood chip mulch.

Management Measures

Restoration of Site 1, eroding Beaver Pond wetland.  The former beaver colony in this area was eliminated by trapping and hunting in the year 2000, from the observations of private landowners at inholdings just upstream.  An extreme flood event (13 inches overnight) in 2013 caused Dalton Creek to avulse into an old road for about 400 feet and lowered the water table by about 4 feet.  The Creek will be returned to its former channel through the wetland, the pond breach plugged, and the old road “plug and ponded” to create wetland habitat. This will greatly reduce the bank erosion from a 400 foot long, 4 foot deep trench of the “old road” that the Creek flow through now, and should have an impact on the leaching of solutes leading to high conductivity readings. More details regarding this management measure can be found in the WBP in Chapter 5, pp. 62-55.

Restoration of Site 2 would involve restoring the Creek channel to a cut-off meander, and treating about 200 feet of 5-foot-tall eroding bank downstream.  A soil/rock plug would divert the stream back into its former meander, and rock structures would protect this plug and the downstream end of the channel realignment.  The bank would be treated by the creation of a bankfull bench and planting with wetland sod and willow cuttings.  In addition, the restoration of the channel upstream would raise the water table 3-4 feet on this bank and allow for the growth of wetland and riparian vegetation that will resist erosive forces of flood events.  The drouthy bank at present cannot support these species. More details regarding this management measure can be found in the WBP in Chapter 5, pp. 62-65.

The large, open camping area at Site 3 allow access for automobiles to the bank of the Creek.  Treatments will involve re-grading the site by Bulldozer to divert runoff to the east and capturing it in a catchment basin.  Boulders will be used to create a streambank buffer that will be replanted with native willows.  A small bank protection treatment will be installed downstream to protect about 50 feet of 3-foot-tall raw eroding soil.  This bank will be treated with a “bankfull bench” and planting with native willows. More details regarding this management measure can be found in the
WBP in Chapter 5, pp. 62-65.

Site 4 is a “blocked-off” camping meadow that appears to be still accessible by vehicle.  This blocking will be enhanced by the addition of native logs and boulders, the meadow will be planted with native shrubs such as currant, three leaf sumac and Gamble’s oak.  The change from an open meadow to a shrubland should assist in reducing the temptation to trespass with automobiles.  Several reaches of Dalton Creek have suffered from downcutting due to the 2013 flood event, these will be treated with grade control structures such as one rock dams and cross vanes to maintain the water table and prevent further downcutting. More details regarding this management measure can be found in the WBP in Chapter 5, pp. 62-65.

Project Partners

  • Upper Pecos Watershed Association
  • US Forest Service, Pecos Ranger District
  • New Mexico Environment Department, Surface Quality Water Bureau
  • Pathfinder Environmental, LLC
  • Keystone Restoration Ecology, LLC