Soil Restoration in the Southwest

By Amanda Bramble, Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center

One doesn’t have to go far anywhere in the Southwest to see that soil erosion is a problem. Roots are exposed, head cuts start then grow, any organic material that could develop into topsoil is removed, water doesn’t soak into the ground but rather, picks up sediment and deposits it into rivers and streams. It’s not just the soil we are losing, it’s the vegetation too that which feeds us and our wild relatives. We’ve been working on solutions.

In 2011, Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center initiated a restoration project to mitigate erosion just outside Madrid, NM.  A crucial element in our work was creating a new flood way that cuts through a hundred year old railroad bed.  We installed water harvesting and erosion control measures in an area where the water historically flowed before the railroad was constructed.  So we created a new path for the water, but restored the natural flood patterns of the watershed.

For a while, the rock and brush structures did their job, collecting sediment, encouraging the establishment of vegetation, and creating a stable location for this side channel to meet up with the main floodwater drainage.  But this project was constructed during a period of drought, and no one knew the extent of the flooding that was still to come.

On September 17, 2013, a record flood blasted through the town of Madrid.  It was part of the same weather pattern that caused so much damage in Colorado.  It damaged the work done here, too.

Now we have the  opportunity to upgrade the design of these flood structures.   In this new design (by land restoration guru Bill Zeedyk), we account for the extreme storm events that we can expect more of.  We will install new combinations of storm water harvesting and grade control structures.  And we’ll host dozens of volunteers to help implement this project while learning how to restore their own lands.

You are invited to come learn specifically what works and what doesn’t when it comes to erosion control design.  It will be a great time to learn by doing, and get the satisfaction of healing the watershed with elements you can find right on the land.

We’ve been fund-raising to support this project.  The donations go towards heavy equipment and for food to fuel the volunteers.  Come join us.   We are still accepting financial donations as well. It’s all about learning which designs work best in what situations, getting water into the soil, and together, re-growing our native wild lands!

Please visit our website to find out more about our community events (Rock On and Rock Out!) where you can learn about this important work, get fed well, meet good people, and be entertained with music afterwards.  You can contact us at

Ampersand Happenings

Geology Hike: March 16, 2014, 2pm to 4:30pm

Join us for a hike around the Ampersand’s 38 acres to explore the geologic influences that make this place so stunning.  We have layers of standstone outcroppings, petrified wood, a ridge of blocky basalt, and ancient petroglyphs to look at on the way.  Local geologists Mary Morton and Scott Renbarger will help us gain an understanding of the Earth’s history and the alchemy of rock formation. $10 suggested donation.

Rock On and Rock Out!: March 8, 2014

Lend a hand to our watershed restoration project and learn about erosion control structures made with rock.  Then relax and enjoy dinner and music. Come for the whole day or just to chow and jam out with us and celebrate our accomplishments. Learn building and design of erosion control structures in a hands on project that will contribute to our watershed restoration program from 2-5 PM, and then enjoy music and a potluck. Bring food and your favorite instrument.

Please RSVP!  That way we will be sure to have enough food for all of our rock work