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Grant received for work on Sambrito wetlands

Staff Writer

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) staff at Navajo State Park have received one of 18 wetlands program grants awarded for wetland and riparian area restoration and management projects across the state in 2013.

The $50,000 grant will be used to repair and restore basic infrastructure that drives water flow management to the Sambrito wetlands on the western edge of Navajo Lake. Combined funding for the grant came from the Colorado Wetlands Initiative and Colorado Great Outdoors in addition to proceeds from the sale of the Colorado waterfowl stamp.

The multiuse Sambrito wetlands area of Navajo State Park currently contains 27 active wetland acres and is managed by CPW as a limited management area. The wetlands area was originally part of a Bureau of Reclamation project that involved building Navajo reservoir. The land occupied by Sambrito has been owned by the Bureau of Reclamation since Navajo Dam was completed in 1962, but is currently managed by CPW. Under this management, wetland access facilities such as the gravel path, pavilion, restrooms and parking area have been built. The area is utilized year round by park visitors for wildlife and scenic viewing as well as during specific seasons for environmental education and waterfowl hunting.

Proposed restoration and potential expansion of the Sambrito wetlands area has been a long-term process and this grant will help CPW staff and invested volunteers complete the first phase of the Sambrito Project. Sambrito wetlands water is supplied primarily by irrigation return flows diverted from Vallejo Arroyo via a delivery system of ditches, canals and pipes that are currently in disrepair. Grant money received this year will be utilized for the repair and restoration of this basic water supply infrastructure, including headgates, valves and ditches.

According to Navajo State Park Ranger Doug Secrist, these restorations should take one to two years. Park staff intends to carry out these improvements during the fall and winter when there is no active water flow. Working on water delivery infrastructure during these seasons will also be less of an inconvenience for park visitors, although phase one of the project will involve minimal area closures. Some of the restoration work will be carried out by CPW staff and some will be contracted out.

Secrist explained that recruiting and employing volunteers to help with the restorations is an integral part of the Sambrito plan. The goal is to bring groups that are invested in the restoration together in order to complete the project. Examples of these groups include Ducks Unlimited, the Audubon Society, Boy Scouts and the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

The second and third phases of the Sambrito project involve further wetland enhancement and expansion of the wetland area. Project phases two and three will require additional funding; Secrist estimates that completion of all project phases will cost a total of $150,000.

According to Catherine Ortega of the Southwest Wetlands Focus Area Committee (FAC), a volunteer-based organization within CPW that provides the state with knowledge of local wetlands resources and generates ideas for wetland projects, the Sambrito project dates back to the early 2000s. At this time, Sambrito was brought to the attention of committee in conjunction with the Miller Mesa area in New Mexico. However, the committee and CPW were unable collaborate and move forward with a restoration project until approximately two years ago when the Sambrito area restoration project was separated from Miller Mesa. Separation allowed the project to move forward as complicated legal differences and management goals that stretched across state lines were eliminated. As the project moves forward, Southwest Wetlands FAC volunteers will continue to provide in kind support including helping with planning, restorations, and wetland monitoring.

Initial restoration measures will improve water delivery infrastructure that feeds the Sambrito area, facilitating more controlled wetland management. These improvements will enhance and revitalize the existing wetland, benefiting a variety of wildlife species and plant communities that depend on wetland resources.

Surrounded by pinon-juniper woodlands, sagebrush shrublands and grasslands, the wetland is a critical habitat resource for species that permanently reside there as well as for species that primarily occupy other habitat zones. Improvements will facilitate the provision of diverse wetland habitat features at Sambrito, thereby encouraging wildlife and plant community diversity. Species that will benefit from these improvements include, but are not limited to Gadwalls, Short-eared owls, river otters, American Wigeons, Northern Pintails, Bald Eagles, the Northern Leopard Frog, and a variety of small mammals and rodents. Mallards and geese will also benefit from the improvement, which will in turn enhance fall waterfowl hunting opportunities in the area.

To date, the value of the Sambrito project is approximately $66,000, a number that includes the CPW grant as well as the value of in-kind support received from the Southwest Wetlands FAC.

Dana.Hayward@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on October 31, 2013.