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Pecos River Water Salvage Project

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General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits


General Description

The Pecos River Basin Water Salvage Project is a Reclamation funded project to control salt cedar growth from the Sumner Dam area to the New Mexico-Texas state line (this area encompasses the flood plain of the Pecos River extending from Santa Rosa, New Mexico, to Girvin, Texas). Saltcedars are nonnative phreatophytes (trees that consume lots of water). The consumption of water by phreatophytes, particularly the nonnative species such as salt cedar, is a continuing problem in the arid and semiarid regions of the western United States. It is estimated that phreatophytes cover 15 million acres of bottom lands in the 17 Western States.

Virtually every stream in the southwest supports growth of salt cedars. This is particularly true in the Pecos River Basin, and the impact is great because of the short supply of water.

Four major earth dams are located within this reach of the Pecos River. They are Sumner Dam, about 16 miles north of Fort Sumner, New Mexico; Brantley Dam, about 13 miles north of Carlsbad, New Mexico; Avalon Dam, 5 miles north of Carlsbad, New Mexico; and Red Bluff Dam, 12 miles north of Orla, Texas.

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About 590 miles of the Pecos River and, before clearing, over 200,000 acres of salt cedars are within the boundaries of the project. The lateral boundaries of about 78,000 acres of land to receive treatment were established on each side of the river where the depth to water table was no more than 10 feet. This relatively high water table provides excellent growing conditions for the salt cedars. A total of 53,950 acres infested with dense growths of salt cedars was selectively cleared; the remaining 24,050 acres were left untouched to reduce the impact on wildlife.

Operating Agencies

The operating agency for the Pecos River Basin Water Salvage Project is the Bureau of Reclamation. New Mexico participates in the project by supplying funds for acquisition of permits and rights-of-way; Texas participated in the Project until 1995 when it ceased its share of funding.

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The major phreatophyte species which is a problem in the southwest is the salt cedar (Tamarix ssp). It was first noted in the McMillan Delta area, Pecos River Basin, between 1912 and 1914. Since that time salt cedar has spread throughout the basin, occupying more than 275,000 acres in 1961.

Salt cedars contribute to the problems of water shortages and flooding within the Pecos River Basin area. It is estimated that the consumptive use of water by salt cedars in some areas of the Pecos River Basin may be as much as 4.15 acre-feet per acre per year. Also, phreatophyte invasion onto farmlands was decreasing crop yield and forage available for pasture grazing.


Public Law 88-594, dated September 12, 1964, authorized the Secretary of the Interior, as he deems necessary, to `. . . carry out a continuing program to reduce nonbeneficial consumptive use of water in the basin including that by salt ceders and other phreatophytes.`


Clearing activities conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation began in 1967 and continued until 1971, during which time about 53,950 acres at various locations between Lake Sumner, New Mexico, and Pecos, Texas, a distance of about 370 miles, were within the clearing boundaries. After a hiatus, the clearing program was reinitiated. Since 1995 the program has been limited to about 30,000 acres in New Mexico.

Various methods and equipment were used for the initial clearing of the salt cedars such as plowing, tree crushers, mowing, bulldozing, chaining, and chemical control. The maintenance of the regrowth currently is performed solely by root plowing with heavy equipment.

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Last updated: May 14, 2009