Restoring native species in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert

5,000+

native plant species sourced, seeded and planted

5

acres of land surveyed

Challenge
In one of the country’s harshest environments, El Paso Water was tasked with restoring vegetation near a newly constructed dam.

Solution
El Paso Water partnered with Arcadis’ ecologists and engineers to develop a restoration plan that would ensure long-term environmental health.

Impact
Native species are recovering, providing a beautiful landscape for residents while protecting the region’s essential natural assets.

Project description:

In nature, as in science, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Following the construction of the Silver Springs Arroyo Dam in El Paso, El Paso Water (EPWater) and Arcadis worked together on a delicate natural balancing act. The new dam is instrumental in reducing flood risk; however, construction resulted in the loss of some natural flora. When engaged neighbors raised their concerns, EPWater immediately jumped into action.

“We knew during the design of the new dam that we were going to have to disturb a significant area of this natural arroyo, and revegetation would be a necessity,” said EPWater Project Manager Ryan Stubbs. “We typically rely on landscape architects to lead these type of restoration projects, but this time we had an ecologist step in and take the lead.”

Arcadis’ team of ecologists and engineers recommended a more comprehensive restoration plan, specifically tailored to El Paso’s desert environment. Arcadis scanned the area with a drone-mounted camera to gather data about the landscape. After considering the arid climate, soil quality and the vegetation that would be most likely to thrive in the region, the team went to work. Over the course of two weeks, the team seeded and planted more than 5,000 of the Chihuahuan Desert’s heartiest plants.

Soil in the desert is different than soil in other areas of the country. Naturally much thinner and less nutrient-rich, desert soil also has biocrust – layers of bacteria, microbes and fungi that support healthy plant life. When that soil is disrupted, it becomes virtually sterile and can take many years to fully support plant growth again. As such, the team sourced the heartiest of all desert flora and planted only bare-rooted or potted plug species whose roots will not disturb soil stability.

“These plants are not just an aesthetic addition. They provide a habitat for native wildlife, help stabilize the soil, prevent erosion during rain events and help prevent invasive species from taking root. Desert environments can be a real challenge, but it’s exciting to start seeing the environmental benefits come to life,” said Jeremy Henson, Arcadis’ lead ecologist on the project.

The key to restoration is not just planting but ensuring the ongoing health of the plants and the soil long-term. EPWater and Arcadis will continue to monitor the area over the course of the next year, checking for survival and replanting any flora that does not take to the soil. Using drone-mounted sensors, Arcadis can also continue to analyze the health and stress levels of vegetation without disrupting healthy, recovering areas.

“Going the extra mile with El Paso Water on their first-ever restoration project was rewarding, not just because of the challenge at hand but because of how the team came together from so many different specialty areas to deliver results that will literally continue to grow over time,” said Joel Mora, Arcadis project manager.

Additional information about EPWater’s Silver Springs Arroyo Dam restoration project and their plans for future projects is available here.


Outcomes

5,000+

native plant species sourced, seeded and planted

5

acres of land surveyed
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