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SPA-2009-00520-ABQ; Bureau of Reclamation Bosque del Apache Rio Grande Realignment Pilot Project

Published May 11, 2018

                                                                                    JOINT PUBLIC NOTICE

Application Number:  SPA-2009-00520-ABQ

Date:  May 11, 2018

Comments Due:  June 10, 2018

 

SUBJECT: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque District, (USACE) and the New Mexico Environment Department’s Surface Water Quality Bureau (SWQB) are evaluating an application for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), Bosque del Apache Rio Grande Realignment Pilot Project, located at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (BDANWR), in the City of San Antonio, Socorro County, New Mexico. 

AUTHORITY: This application is being evaluated under Sections 404 and 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) for the discharge of dredged or fill material in waters of the United States (U.S.).  State water quality certification is provided under the authority of 20.6.2 New Mexico Administrative Code. 

APPLICANT:         Jennifer Faler

                        Albuquerque Area Office, USBR

                        555 Broadway Blvd. NE

                        Albuquerque, New Mexico  87102 

LOCATION: The project site is located on and adjacent to the Rio Grande at approximately Section 4, Township 5 S, Range 1 E, Latitude 33.799069° North, Longitude -106.917845° West, in BDANWR, in the City of San Antonio, Socorro County, New Mexico (Figures 1-23 of 23). 

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The applicant proposes to relocate approximately 3 miles (mi) of the Rio Grande, a perennial stream, from its current location to the east, entirely within BDANWR (Figure 1 of 23).  The total proposed project area is approximately 1,110 acres (ac) with a total area of disturbance of approximately 360 ac.  The proposed east location is at a lower elevation than the adjacent floodplain and current bank elevation.  The proposed project is a pilot to a longer potential realignment of the Rio Grande that would total approximately 8 mi.  The applicant proposes to discharge approximately 215,000 cubic yards (cy) of material into waters of the U.S. and excavate approximately 218,000 cy of material from waters of the U.S. Based on available information, the overall project purpose is to reduce river maintenance and water depletions within a portion of the Rio Grande perched channel reach.  The applicant believes there is a need to relocate approximately 3 mi of the Rio Grande in order to maintain continuous low flows during drought, reduce sediment plug formation by addressing sediment transport imbalance, reconnect the main channel to overbanking flows during flood events, and reduce threats to existing infrastructure from an uncontrolled channel avulsion.  

The realignment corridor is approximately 3 mi long and approximately 300 feet (ft) wide as measured from the realignment channel centerline (Figure 2 of 23).  The approximate area of the realignment corridor is 100 ac.   

The proposed project would include the following activities: vegetation destabilization and removal for the length of the realignment corridor; excavation at the inlet and outlet of the realignment corridor; select vegetation removal of primarily monotypic and exotic species and destabilization outside of the realignment corridor; and conversion of the existing river channel into a floodplain.   

Existing vegetation within the realignment corridor would be removed by mulching or tree extraction.  The applicant may not remove some existing stands of native vegetation at the exterior fringes of the realignment corridor depending on field conditions.  Large native trees greater than 40 ft in height that would be removed due to their location in the realignment corridor would be temporarily stockpiled and potentially used for bank stabilization along the existing river channel in order to help transition flows into the realigned channel.  Once vegetation is removed, the soil within the realignment corridor would be loosened using a single or multi shank ripper to dislodge roots and tree trunks within the first few feet of existing ground elevation.  Woody vegetation that is not stockpiled would be burned on-site by BDANWR fire crews and the applicant would mix the ash and inorganic material with sediment to fill a portion of the existing river channel in order to provide nutrients for proposed plantings (Figures 8-16  of 23). 

Vegetation removal would also be conducted within an approximate area of 170 ac located outside of the realignment corridor (Figures 8-16 of 23).  This vegetation removal would focus on monotypic stands of non-native and noxious plant species.  This vegetation removal would provide more area for the realigned channel to adjust its morphology and encourage development of varied active channel widths.  In addition, removal of non-native and noxious plant species provides an opportunity for recruitment of native vegetation and improved habitat. Additionally, some removal of large native vegetation may also be conducted in order to facilitate access to the existing channel at both proposed stockpile locations (Figures 9-16 of 23).   

In order to facilitate the realigned pilot channel’s connection with the existing channel, an inlet and outlet would be excavated (Figures 12, 14, & 18 of 23). Approximately 2,400 linear feet (lf) at the inlet and approximately 9,000 lf at the outlet would be excavated to a width of up to approximately 300 ft (the total width of the realignment corridor) with a depth range between approximately 0-7 ft.  The inlet and outlet would be trapezoidal in shape and tiered with a minimum bottom width of approximately 50 ft.  Excavation within the existing channel may be necessary in order to convey flows through the inlet and outlet, including removal of bars or other depositional features. All excavated material would be placed in the existing channel to be converted to floodplain. 

The applicant would convert a portion of the existing channel into a floodplain (Figures 9-17 of 23).  The existing channel fill and floodplain conversion would extend for approximately 1.6 mi, resulting in approximately 45 ac of fill in the current channel of the Rio Grande, a perennial stream.  In order to facilitate this conversion, the applicant would divert flows from the existing channel into the realignment channel; fill and stabilize approximately 7,273 lf of the existing channel; and potentially stabilize the new river bankline.  The applicant would construct a permanent earthen diversion berm located approximately 930 ft downstream of the inlet in the existing channel in order to divert flows into the realignment channel.  The permanent berm would be part of the earthen existing channel fill and may have additional bank stabilization across the upstream end of the floodplain conversion area.  This fill would ensure that river flows transition to the realignment channel as well as provide a location to place material from the vegetation clearing activities and substrate for plantings.  The fill depth would be variable in order to create more natural topography and would generally match current bankline elevations of the existing channel (Figure 17 of 23).   

The applicant proposes to plant the floodplain conversion area with native species such as coyote willow (Salix exigua), Gooding’s willow (Salix gooddingii), and Rio Grande cottonwood (Populus deltoides var. wislizenii).   

Bank stabilization, if needed, would consist of an engineered log jam (Figure 23 of 23). If bank stabilization is necessary, it would consist of 5 woody structures using mature native trees removed as part of the overall project.  The woody structures would be placed along the upstream edge of the existing channel floodplain conversion area, providing additional erosion protection while encouraging sediment deposition upstream.  The woody structures would be comprised of 5 groupings, spaced approximately 40 ft apart. 

The applicant proposes to utilize existing roads on the east and west sides of the Rio Grande in BDANWR for construction and emergency access to the proposed project site (Figures 10-16 of 23).  The applicant has identified primary and secondary access routes with primary routes being the most frequently used and the secondary routes being used by smaller construction vehicles such as pickup trucks.  Road improvements such as clearing, mowing and trimming, blading, widening, and gravel capping, would be necessary to ensure safe and convenient access to the proposed project site.  If water is present in the San Pedro Drain area, located along the eastern portion of the realignment corridor, culverts would be installed to allow for dry working conditions during construction.  Other culverts would be installed along secondary access routes in order to allow equipment access.  Culverts would be removed upon completion of construction. Approximately 35 mi of access roads would be utilized for the proposed project. 

Temporary staging and stockpile areas would be used to store equipment and materials (Figures 9-16 of 23).  The two temporary stockpile areas totaling approximately 50 ac, would be used to store material for the floodplain conversion area and diversion berm as described above.  The stockpile areas would be located in areas where vegetation removal is proposed.  The staging area would be approximately 1 ac and some vegetation removal would also be performed at this site. 

The overall proposed project would result in permanently filling approximately 8,000 lf or approximately 45 ac of perennial stream (Figures 10-16 of 23).  The overall proposed project would result in permanently excavating approximately 4 acres (ac) of forested wetlands, approximately 8 ac of scrub/shrub wetlands, and approximately 1 ac of emergent wetlands that are waters of the United States (U.S.) and adjacent to the Rio Grande.  The proposed project would also result in temporarily impacting approximately 96 ac of forested wetlands, approximately 294 ac of scrub/shrub wetlands, and approximately 4,000 lf or approximately 18 ac of perennial stream. 

PROPOSED MITIGATION: The applicant proposes to compensate for unavoidable adverse impacts to waters of the U.S. on-site by creating or enhancing aquatic resources.  The applicant proposes to create approximately 40 ac of combined forested and scrub/shrub wetlands and approximately 18 ac of emergent wetlands.  The applicant proposes to create the forested and scrub/shrub wetlands by planting willow and cottonwood trees within the channel floodplain conversion area (Figure 15-16 of 23).  The applicant proposes to create emergent wetlands within the downstream portion of the existing channel where riverine hydrology would no longer exist (Figure 10 of 23).  The applicant proposes to enhance approximately 142 ac of saltcedar dominated scrub-shrub wetlands by removing non-native, invasive species.  The applicant proposes to conduct groundwater monitoring and monitoring of plantings for a 5 year period post-construction. 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:  

Environmental Setting. The proposed project area is located in the Chihuahuan Desert portion of the Rio Grande Floodplain ecoregion.  This ecoregion extends from San Acacia, New Mexico to the border with Texas and Mexico. Hydrology has been altered by upstream and downstream impoundments and by channelization.  Annual flooding of terraces and benches has been significantly reduced from historic flooding. Land uses include agriculture, urban, wildlife conservation and habitat.  The Rio Grande Floodplain is an important wintering area for sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis), snow geese (Anser caerulescens), Ross’s geese (Anser rossii) and other water fowl. This ecoregion is also a primary component to the Central Flyway; a bird migration route extending from central Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.  The BDANWR was established in part to protect and conserve migratory bird habitat because of its location on the Central Flyway, in addition to the important role the refuge plays in protecting federally-listed species and their habitat.   

The proposed project area is characterized by forested and scrub/shrub wetlands with a smaller emergent wetland within the Rio Grande floodplain.  The current Rio Grande channel, a perennial stream, is perched above the floodplain through this reach.  Historic river channels and ditches have become overgrown with saltcedar (Tamarisk sp.), coyote willow, and cottonwood of various age classes, which are the dominant species within the proposed project site.  Vegetation is often so dense that it is not possible to see or walk through it.  Large areas of saltcedar scrub have been flooded and, in some cases, burned by wildfires and then regenerated, which has created new, dense growth.  The saltcedar in this area has also been infested with salt cedar beetles.  Hydrology is driven by river flooding and, in some areas, a relatively high groundwater table.  Soil texture ranges from coarse sand and rock to clay loam or silt, depending on topographic location. 

The proposed project area contains the following aquatic resources that are waters of the U.S.: approximately 453.8 ac of forested wetlands, approximately 472.9 ac of scrub/shrub wetlands, approximately 15.2 ac of emergent wetlands, and approximately 15,160 lf or 55.4 ac of perennial streams (Figure 3-6 of 23).  Total waters of the U.S. located in the proposed project area is 997.3 ac.  The forested wetlands are dominated by cottonwood and Gooding’s willow. The scrub-shrub wetlands are dominated by saltcedar, coyote willow, and mule’s fat (Baccharis salicifolia).  The emergent wetlands are dominated by cattail (Typha latifolia), curly dock (Rumex crispus), barnyard grass (Echinochloa crus-galli), cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium), common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and common reed (Phragmites australis).  

The proposed project area contains approximately 66.9 ac of dryland dominated by sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia), screwbean mesquite (Prosopis pubescens), and Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia).  

Alternatives. The applicant has provided information concerning project alternatives.  The applicant formed and led an interagency and interdisciplinary team to evaluate potential options for addressing river maintenance and water depletion concerns.  Six alternative types totaling seventeen different alternatives were considered, including: 

The no action alternative that would involve ongoing maintenance without a pilot channel or removal of sediment plugs.  

Three pilot channel alternatives that would involve excavation of a narrow channel through sediment plugs with different channel excavation and spoiling options. 

A pilot channel with grade control alternative that would involve placement of deformable riffles in the channel bed and excavation of a narrow channel through sediment plugs. 

Four levee improvement alternatives that would reduce hydraulic pressure against the spoil levee with different levee dimensions, or placement of bendway weirs separately or in conjunction with floodplain modifications such as vegetation clearing or excavation of small channels to route water away from the spoil levee toe. 

Three preemptive channel work alternatives that would involve channel/floodplain work to minimize formation of sediment plugs.  These alternatives included widening the river channel and removing/destabilizing vegetation of islands and banks, breaking up mud layers and channelization (smoothing out abrupt bends), and excavating the channel thalweg (deepest part of the river).  

Five river realignment alternatives that would involve relocation of the river channel.  Four of these alternatives were specific to realignment locations to the east around River Mile (RM) 83 and RM 81.  Each eastern location considered excavation at the inlet and outlet and also continuous channel excavation. The fifth alternative considered options of relocating the channel to the west.  

Other alternatives may develop during the review process for this permit application.  All reasonable project alternatives, in particular those which may be less damaging to the aquatic environment, will be considered. 

EVALUATION FACTORS: This application will be reviewed in accordance with 33 CFR 320-332, the Regulatory Program of the USACE, and other pertinent laws, regulations, and executive orders.  The USACE evaluation will also follow the guidelines published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pursuant to Section 404(b)(1) of the CWA.  The decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impacts, including cumulative impacts, of the proposed activity on the public interest.  That decision will reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources.  The benefits which reasonably may be expected to accrue from the proposed activity must be balanced against its reasonably foreseeable detriments.  All factors which may be relevant to the proposed activity will be considered, including the cumulative effects thereof; among those are conservation, economics, aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, historic properties, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shoreline erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and conservation, water quality, energy needs, safety, food and fiber production, mineral needs, consideration of property ownership and, in general, the needs and welfare of the people. 

HISTORIC PROPERTIES:  The proposed project would occur on federally-owned land, the BDANWR owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  The applicant is a federal agency and is the lead federal agency for compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act.  The project area has not been recently surveyed for historic properties.  In a letter to the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Officer (NMSHPO), dated May 10, 2017, the USBR requested concurrence with their recommendation to survey the proposed Rio Grande realignment path after hand cutting vegetation and before ground work occurs.  The NMSHPO concurred with USBR’s recommended course of action on June 12, 2017.   

ENDANGERED SPECIES:  The proposed project would occur on federally-owned land, the BDANWR, which is managed by USFWS.  The applicant is a federal agency and is the lead federal agency for compliance with the Endangered Species Act.  In a letter dated January 8, 2018, USBR notified USFWS that they would be including the Rio Grande Realignment Pilot Project under the Water Management and Maintenance Activities on the Middle Rio Grande Biological and Conference Opinion, Consultation Number 02ENNM00-2013-F-0033, issued December 2, 2016.  The USBR expects that the proposed project would eventually create and improve habitat resulting in long-term beneficial impacts to Rio Grande Silvery Minnow (Hybognathus amarus), Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus), and Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus).  The USBR has determined that short-term impacts to these species would be adverse and temporary resulting from construction and initial disturbance.  The USBR proposes to minimize adverse effects to federally-listed species during construction by implementing mowing for some vegetation removal, locating temporary staging and stockpile areas in unsuitable habitat, focusing vegetation removal in moderately and unsuitable habitat to the maximum extent possible, and utilizing existing access roads with minor improvements.  The USBR anticipates that the completed project would create or improve habitat for federally-listed species by enhancing wetlands with more native species and removal of non-native invasive species, and by improving river hydrology through the realignment. 

FLOODPLAIN MANAGEMENT:  The USACE is sending a copy of this public notice to the local floodplain administrator.  In accordance with 44 CFR part 60 (Flood Plain Management Regulations Criteria for Land Management and Use), the floodplain administrators of participating communities are required to review all proposed development to determine if a floodplain development permit is required and maintain records of such review. 

COMMENT SUBMITTAL AND DEADLINES:  The USACE and SWQB are soliciting comments from all interested parties to consider and evaluate the impacts of this proposed activity.  Any comments received by the USACE will be considered to determine whether to issue, issue with special conditions, or deny a Sec. 404 permit for this proposal.  Comments are used in the preparation of documentation required under the National Environmental Policy Act.  Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity. 

Submittal of USACE Permit Application Comments:  All comments regarding the USACE permit application for the above-described project must be received on or before June 10, 2018, which is the close of the comment period.  Comments on state Section 401 certification must be submitted as described below under “Water Quality Certification Comments”. Extensions of the comment period may be granted for valid reasons provided a written request is received by the close of the comment period.  If no comments are received by that date, it will be considered that there are no objections.  Anyone may request, in writing, that a public hearing be held to consider this application.  Requests shall specifically state the particular reason(s) for holding a public hearing.  If the USACE determines that the information received in response to this notice is inadequate for thorough evaluation, a public hearing may be warranted.  If a public hearing is warranted, interested parties will be notified of the time, date, and location.  Comments and requests for additional information on the USACE permitting action should be submitted to:  

Kelly Allen, Project Manager

US Army USACE of Engineers, Albuquerque District

4101 Jefferson Plaza NE

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87109

(505) 342-3216

E-mail: Kelly.E.Allen@usace.army.mil 

Submittal of Water Quality Certification Comments: Section 401 requires that any applicant for a federal permit provide proof of water quality certification to the appropriate federal agency prior to permit issuance. For the above proposed project, the applicant is required to obtain water quality certification, under Section 401 of the CWA, from the SWQB. 

This notice serves to inform the public that the SWQB will consider issuing a certification under Section 401 of the CWA.  The purpose of such certification is to reasonably ensure that the permitted activities will be conducted in a manner compliant with applicable New Mexico water quality standards, including antidegradation policy, and statewide water quality management plan.  This notice is also posted on the SWQB website at: https://www.env.nm.gov/surface-water-quality/public-notices/   

The SWQB will accept and consider written comments regarding the state certification received during the public comment period.  Comments may be submitted electronically or by hard copy to:  

Abraham Franklin

New Mexico Environment Department SWQB

P.O. Box 5469

Santa Fe, NM 87502-5469

505-827-2793

FAX 505-827-0160

E-mail: abraham.franklin@state.nm.us 

Please note that names and addresses of those who submit comments in response to this public notice may be made publicly available through the Freedom of Information Act, the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act, or both.

 

DISTRICT ENGINEER

ALBUQUERQUE DISTRICT

USACE

 

                                                                                      BUREAU CHIEF

                                                                                      SURFACE WATER QUALITY BUREAU

                                                                                      NEW MEXICO ENVIRONMENT DEPT