Cost/Benefit Considerations for Recent Saltcedar Control, Middle Pecos River, New Mexico
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- Barz, D., Watson, R.P., Kanney, J.F. et al. Environmental Management (2009) 43: 282. doi:10.1007/s00267-008-9156-9
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Major benefits were weighed against major costs associated with recent saltcedar control efforts along the Middle Pecos River, New Mexico. The area of study was restricted to both sides of the channel and excluded tributaries along the 370 km between Sumner and Brantley dams. Direct costs (helicopter spraying, dead tree removal, and revegetation) within the study area were estimated to be $2.2 million but possibly rising to $6.4 million with the adoption of an aggressive revegetation program. Indirect costs associated with increased potential for erosion and reservoir sedimentation would raise the costs due to increased evaporation from more extensive shallows in the Pecos River as it enters Brantley Reservoir. Actions such as dredging are unlikely given the conservative amount of sediment calculated (about 1% of the reservoir pool). The potential for water salvage was identified as the only tangible benefit likely to be realized under the current control strategy. Estimates of evapotranspiration (ET) using Landsat TM data allowed estimation of potential water salvage as the difference in ET before and after treatment, an amount totaling 7.41 million m3 (6010 acre-ft) per year. Previous saltcedar control efforts of roughly the same magnitude found that salvaged ET recharged groundwater and no additional flows were realized within the river. Thus, the value of this recharge is probably less than the lowest value quoted for actual in-channel flow, and estimated to be < $63,000 per year. Though couched in terms of costs and benefits, this paper is focused on what can be considered the key trade-off under a complete eradication strategy: water salvage vs. erosion and sedimentation. It differs from previous efforts by focusing on evaluating the impacts of actual control efforts within a specific system. Total costs (direct plus potential indirect) far outweighed benefits in this simple comparison and are expected to be ongoing. Problems induced by saltcedar control may permanently reduce reservoir capacity and increase reservoir evaporation rates, which could further deplete supplies on this water short system. These potential negative consequences highlight that such costs and benefits need to be considered before initiating extensive saltcedar control programs on river systems of the western United States.