Geomorphic Survey of North Fork Eagle Creek, New Mexico, 2018

Open-File Report 2020-1121
Prepared in cooperation with the Village of Ruidoso, New Mexico
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Abstract

About one-quarter of the water supply for the Village of Ruidoso, New Mexico, is from groundwater pumped from wells located along North Fork Eagle Creek in the National Forest System lands of the Lincoln National Forest near Alto, New Mexico. Because of concerns regarding the effects of groundwater pumping on surface-water hydrology in the North Fork Eagle Creek Basin and the effects of the 2012 Little Bear Fire, which resulted in substantial loss of vegetation in the basin, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Lincoln National Forest, has required monitoring of a portion of North Fork Eagle Creek for short-term geomorphic change as part of the permitting decision that allows for the continued pumping of the production wells. The objective of this study is to address the geomorphic monitoring requirements of the permitting decision by conducting annual geomorphic surveys of North Fork Eagle Creek along the stream reach between the North Fork Eagle Creek near Alto, New Mexico, streamflow-gaging station (U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] site 08387550) and the Eagle Creek below South Fork near Alto, New Mexico, streamflow-gaging station (USGS site 08387600). The monitoring of short-term geomorphic change in the stream reach began in June 2017 with surveys of select cross sections and surveys of all woody debris accumulations and pools found in the channel. In June 2018, the monitoring of short-term geomorphic change continued with another geomorphic survey of the stream reach (with some modification to the monitoring methods).

The 2017 and 2018 surveys were conducted by the USGS, in cooperation with the Village of Ruidoso, and were the first two in a planned series of five annual geomorphic surveys. The results of the 2017 geomorphic survey were summarized and interpreted in a previous USGS Open-File Report, and the data were published in the companion data release of that report. In this report, the results of the 2018 geomorphic survey are summarized, interpreted, and compared to the results of the 2017 survey. The data from the 2018 geomorphic survey are published in the companion data release of this report.

The study reach surveyed in June 2018 is 1.89 miles long, beginning about 260 feet upstream from the North Fork Eagle Creek near Alto, New Mexico, streamflow-gaging station and ending at the Eagle Creek below South Fork near Alto, New Mexico, streamflow-gaging station. Large sections of the study reach are characterized by intermittent streamflow, and where streamflow is normally continuous (including at the upper and lower portions of the study reach, near the streamflow-gaging stations), the streamflow typically remains less than 2 cubic feet per second throughout the year except during seasonal high flows, which most often result from rainfall during the North American monsoon months of July, August, and September or from snowmelt runoff in March, April, and May. Between the 2017 and 2018 surveys, high-flow events resulting from both rainfall (during the North American monsoon season) and snowmelt runoff (during the winter) occurred in the study reach, and those high-flow events appeared to have caused some minor and localized geomorphic changes in the study reach, which were evaluated through comparison of the 2017 and 2018 survey results.

For the 2017 geomorphic survey of North Fork Eagle Creek, cross sections were established and surveyed at 14 locations along the study reach, and in 2018, those same 14 cross sections were resurveyed. Comparisons of the cross-section survey results indicated that minor observable geomorphic changes had occurred in 3 of the 14 cross sections. These minor observable geomorphic changes included aggradation or degradation of surface materials by about 1–2 feet in some parts of the affected cross sections.

To further assess geomorphic changes within the study reach, other features, including woody debris accumulations and pools, were surveyed in both 2017 and 2018. During the 2018 geomorphic survey, 112 distinct accumulations of woody debris and 71 pools were identified in the study reach. Charred wood or burn-marked wood was present in at least 17 of the identified woody debris accumulations (and was present in some of the woody debris accumulations identified during the 2017 survey), indicating that some of the woody debris in the channel may have been sourced from trees or forest litter that had burned during 2012 Little Bear Fire. Only 22 of the 112 woody debris accumulations identified during the 2018 survey were certain to have also been present during the 2017 survey (when 58 woody debris accumulations were identified), indicating that most of the woody debris accumulations surveyed in 2017 were likely transported during the high-flow events between the 2017 and 2018 surveys but also indicating that the flows during those events were not high enough to remove some of the more firmly anchored woody debris accumulations. Most woody debris accumulations identified in 2018 did not appear to have substantially influenced geomorphic change in the locations where they were found. However, the formation of 10 of the 71 pools identified in the study reach in 2018 appeared to have been influenced by the presence of woody debris, indicating that some woody debris accumulations may have driven local geomorphic changes. Notably, pool totals from the 2017 survey could not be accurately compared to the pool totals from the 2018 survey because of differences between the two surveys in the methods used to identify pools.

Because the study began 5 years after the 2012 Little Bear Fire, and because the period and geomorphic scope of the study have so far been limited, it cannot be said that the geomorphic changes observed between the 2017 and 2018 surveys are representative of a pattern of geomorphic change following the 2012 Little Bear Fire. Though, once geomorphic changes between the 2017 and 2018 surveys can be compared with results from geomorphic surveys planned for 2019, 2020, and 2021, it may be possible to develop an understanding of the patterns in geomorphic change following the 2012 Little Bear Fire.

Suggested Citation

Graziano, A.P., 2020, Geomorphic survey of North Fork Eagle Creek, New Mexico, 2018: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2020–1121, 37 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20201121.

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Streamflow in the Period Between the 2017 and 2018 Surveys
  • Geomorphic Survey of North Fork Eagle Creek in 2018
  • The Geomorphic Implications of the Hydrologic Responses to the 2012 Little Bear Fire and the Potential for Future Geomorphic Change to North Fork Eagle Creek
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Geomorphic survey of North Fork Eagle Creek, New Mexico, 2018
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2020-1121
DOI 10.3133/ofr20201121
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) New Mexico Water Science Center
Description Report: v, 37 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State New Mexico
Other Geospatial North Fork Eagle Creek
Online Only (Y/N) Y
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