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Atlanta WPA Partners with Landowner to Benefit Wetland and Increase Irrigation Efficiency

Atlanta WPA

Atlanta WPA after restoration dirt work. Photo by L. Badura

(Posted 9/6/18) The western portion of the Rainwater Basin region provides important stopover habitat for many migratory waterbirds, including waterfowl, shorebirds, and the endangered Whooping Crane. Restoration of Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs) is a high priority for the Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District (WMD), particularly in the western portion of the region. In order to fully restore a wetland on a WPA, partnerships with private landowners are usually needed because hydrologic modifications that impact wetlands, such as concentration pits and drains, are often located on private lands adjacent to the WPA boundary.

This was the case at Atlanta WPA. Restoration began on the main unit in 2017 through a partnership between the WMD, Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, and Ducks Unlimited. Restoration activities completed in the fall of 2017 included removal of interior dikes and terraces on the uplands and reshaping of waterways. In addition to this work, 17 abandoned irrigation reuse pits located in the watershed were filled to help facilitate water conveyance from the uplands to the wetland on the WPA to achieve the desired ponding of water.

Aerial photo showing large water reuse pit (in center) prior to restoration.

Aerial photo showing large water reuse pit (in center) prior to restoration. Photo by L. Badura

Each filled pit has a story, many involving private landowners, such as the farmer adjacent to Atlanta WPA. In 2018, he contacted the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to inquire about transitioning a field from gravity to pivot irrigation prior to the planting season. To allow the pivot to complete full rotations (most efficient for the landowner), it would have to pass through the WPA, requiring permission from USFWS. Modifications to the pivot, such as low impact tires, would minimize disturbance to the wetland. Another hindrance to full rotations was an abandoned irrigation reuse/concentration pit capable of storing 7.3 acre-feet of water that was captured from the landowner’s gravity irrigation system and the watershed. Filling the pit would benefit both the landowner and the wetland and because of this, the project leader requested that staff from Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (PFW) develop a restoration plan that would provide benefits to the wetland and to both parties involved in the project.

Working within the partnership, the landowner closed the pit using soil material from his field, as well as sediment and fill removed from the adjacent WPA. In exchange for closing the pit, which increased the landowner’s risk of drown out, PFW and the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture (RWBJV) agreed to provide 100% cost-share for the restoration activities and the RWBJV provided 85% cost-share on new, low-impact pivot tires and their installation. The WMD allowed the landowner to pass the pivot over the portion of the wetland owned by USFWS if the landowner agreed to speed up his pivot while crossing the WPA.

As a result of the removal of fill and sediment from the hydric soils on the WPA, approximately 20 acres of wetland were enhanced and five acres restored. In addition, fill and sediment removal restored 12 acres of the landowner’s portion of wetland, which has no farming restrictions. These efforts facilitated more frequent ponding of water across the hydric soils and will encourage the growth of native annual and perennial vegetation that provide spring foraging habitat for migratory waterbirds such as Whooping Cranes, shorebirds, and waterfowl; decrease the density of invasive species (i.e., reed canarygrass); and improve the overall ­­function for this portion of the wetland. The partnership between the conservation agencies and the landowner is one more example of how, by working together, we can create mutually beneficial solutions that improve our public and private lands and restore wetland habitat for the benefit of the millions of migratory waterbirds that pass through this region.