Water restoration event inspires participants

MARFA – The Water and Grasslands Restoration Event hosted by the Dixon Water Foundation last Friday night drew a crowd of about 40 people. Big Bend Conservation Alliance and Trans Pecos Documentary co-sponsored the event.

Casey Wade, ranch manager of the Dixon Water Foundation, opened the evening with a brief presentation about the work of the Foundation. Through a combination of rotational grazing techniques, the Dixon Water Foundation seeks to perfect best practices for land and water management.

According to Wade, these best practices use the one tool available to all cattle ranchers: cattle. By focusing on this one tool, it is hoped that the practices developed by the Foundation will find widespread use across soil types and income levels.

Pilar Pedersen of the Chaa Ranch in southern Presidio County introduced the headlining guests of the evening, Valer Clark and Jose Manuel Perez of the Cuenca Los Ojos Foundation. Clark and Perez have spent several decades restoring the land where the states of Arizona and New Mexico meet the Mexican border states of Chihuahua and Sonora.

This area is also where the Chihuahuan Desert and Sonoran Desert and the Chiricahua Mountains and Rocky Mountains come together: a region of immense topographical variety and biodiversity. Though she was raised in New York City, Clark quickly fell in love with this wild land and set about restoring it after generations of overgrazing and erosion.

Perez, a native of Mexico, has worked alongside her, refining techniques for the retention of water and soil. Through a series of simple rock dams, known as trincheras, and large metal cages holding stones, called gabiones, Clark and Perez seek to tame the enormous surges of rainwater that scour the creek- and riverbeds several times a year.

As in most of the Southwest, annual rainfall in the Cuenca de Los Ojos region arrives in a handful of major rain events. The removal of the native trees by early miners together with overgrazing by waves of settlers had left the area susceptible to massive erosion.

The application of trincheras and gabiones to a dry watercourse slows the force of the water during rain events, reducing erosion. The structures not only trap rainwater, but also much of the soil carried along with it, which then creates favorable conditions for seeds to take root. Grasses and other plants soon become established in the bed of the watercourse, further stabilizing it and acting as a sponge in future rain events. Then trees and shrubs begin to flourish in these spongy areas, attracting insects, bees, birds, and other wildlife. Over time, the watercourse essentially heals itself and begins to flow most months of the year, if not year-round.

Through a lively spirit of innovation and experimentation, Clark and Perez have honed their water-making skills and trained their neighbors and many others in how to bring the water back to the land.

They have also aerated and reseeded thousands of acres with native grasses and introduced rotational grazing techniques to create a synergy between soil and livestock that actually restores the land to a level of health that could not be achieved without grazing animals.

The presentation included dozens of before-and-after images, revealing incredible progress. The positive message and can-do attitude of these two fine people may serve as an inspiration to us to start applying these techniques right here in the Big Bend.

For more information about Valer Clark, Jose Manuel Perez, and the work of the Cuenca Los Ojos Foundation, please visit: cuencalosojos.org.

To get involved with the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, contact Trey Gerfers at [email protected] .