Long-term Water Table Monitoring of Rio Grande Riparian Ecosystems for Restoration Potential Amid Hydroclimatic Challenges

TitleLong-term Water Table Monitoring of Rio Grande Riparian Ecosystems for Restoration Potential Amid Hydroclimatic Challenges
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsThibault JR, Cleverly JR, Dahm CN
JournalEnvironmental Management
Volume60
Issue6
Start Page1101
Pagination15
Date Published12/2017
Accession NumberSEV.782
Abstract

Hydrological processes drive the ecological functioning and sustainability of cottonwood-dominated
riparian ecosystems in the arid southwestern USA. Snowmelt runoff elevates groundwater levels and inundates
floodplains, which promotes cottonwood germination. Once established, these phreatophytes rely on accessible water
tables (WTs). In New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande corridor diminished flooding and deepening WTs threaten native
riparian communities. We monitored surface flows and riparian WTs for up to 14 years, which revealed that WTs
and surface flows, including peak snowmelt discharge, respond to basin climate conditions and resource management.
WT hydrographs influence the composition of riparian communities and can be used to assess if potential
restoration sites meet native vegetation tolerances for WT depths, rates of recession, and variability throughout their
life stages. WTs were highly variable in some sites, which can preclude native vegetation less adapted to deep drawdowns
during extended droughts. Rates of WT recession varied between sites and should be assessed in regard to
recruitment potential. Locations with relatively shallow WTs and limited variability are likely to be more viable for
successful restoration. Suitable sites have diminished greatly as the once meandering Rio Grande has been constrained
and depleted. Increasing demands on water and the presence of invasive vegetation better adapted to the altered
hydrologic regime further impact native riparian communities. Long-term monitoring over a range of sites and
hydroclimatic extremes reveals attributes that can be evaluated for restoration potential.

DOI10.1007/s00267-017-0945-x