Environmental Practice

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RESEARCH ARTICLE: Water-Harvesting Applications for Rangelands Revisited

Albert Rangoa1 c1 and Kris Havstada1

a1 USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Abstract

Although water-harvesting techniques have been used effectively in irrigated agriculture and domestic water supplies, there seems to have been little continued exploitation of the same techniques in arid and semiarid rangeland water conservation. A review of the history of rangeland water harvesting allows identification of the methods that have been useful in the past and that would likely be effective in the future. It seems that relatively simple water-harvesting approaches work best on rangelands, particularly water-ponding dikes to stimulate vegetation growth. Experience from rangeland water harvesting in New Mexico and other locations in the Southwest indicates that the approach is a long-term solution that produces significant vegetation growth, but generally only 10–15 years after installation because of the sporadic and spatially distributed nature of the summer monsoon rainfall. Additionally, the use of water-ponding dikes seems to most reliably produce an “island” of enhanced soil moisture and increased habitat cover and forage. Water-ponding dikes are easy and relatively inexpensive to construct and produce a pattern of vegetation similar to naturally occurring banded vegetation. Even very shallow dikes (7.5 cm) have been shown to produce a significant vegetation response. As climate changes our water supplies, historical techniques of water harvesting used for over 9,000 years are viable rangeland water conservation alternatives now and in the future for adapting to such changes.

Environmental Practice 11:84–94 (2009)

Correspondence

c1 Address correspondence to: Dr. Albert Rango, USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range, MSC 3JER, PO Box 30003, NMSU, 2995 Knox St., Las Cruces, NM 88003, (phone) 575-646-2120; (fax) 575-646-5889; (email) alrango@nmsu.edu

Albert Rango is a research hydrologist at the USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range in Las Cruces, New Mexico. His two major areas of interest are applications of remote sensing for rangeland management and modeling snowmelt runoff using remote sensing inputs in major river basins such as the Rio Grande. He is the Past-President of the International Commission on Remote Sensing, The American Water Resources Association, and the Western Snow Conference. In 1999, he was the Agricultural Research Service Distinguished Research Scientist of the Year. Before coming to Las Cruces, Dr. Rango was on the faculty at Penn State University, a research hydrologist and branch head at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and research leader of the ARS-Hydrology Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.

Kris Havstad is the Supervisory Scientist at the USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range in Las Cruces, New Mexico. His major area of interest is development of ecologically-based management practices that have applications for desert rangelands. He is a co-principal investigator for the National Science Foundation's Long-Term Ecological Research Program in the Jornada Basin. He has received noteworthy awards for scientific accomplishments and has served on several boards of directors of organizations devoted to natural resource management and conservation. Before joining the ARS in 1988, Dr. Havstad was a tenured faculty member at Montana State University in Bozeman.