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Restoring Water to the Southwest

If you had been raised as a member of the Upper East Side of Manhattan’s high society and made a career as a painter, what sorts of challenges would you pursue as you neared the age of 60?

How about converting a couple dry and barren ranches in the American Southwest and Mexico into thriving ecosystems?

Well that’s exactly what Valer Austin did 13 years ago.  Now at the age of 72, Valer is as energetic as she has ever been,  especially when it comes to talking about water on her land.  You see, when Valer and her husband, Josiah, bought their first ranch, the land was parched and supported only the hardiest of plant species.  Surface streams were nonexistent.

Though the Austins intended to use the ranch as a vacationing spot, they quickly realized that owning a ranch was a full-time effort, and one they were more than happy to embrace.  Their methods for restoring the land, however, were largely an accident.  Hoping to prevent the occasional rainstorms from pouring across a section of road on the property, Josiah built a couple small rock dams, called trincheras.  He and Valer quickly noticed that silt was piling up behind the rocks along with puddles that stayed around long after the rain.  What was truly amazing, though, was when grasses started growing out of the moist silt!  Valer and Josiah quickly realized that a series of trincheras all around their property could slow the pace of rainfall runoff and allow it provide both nutrients and moisture to their land.

Now, 13 years and over 20,000 trincheras later (plus tree planting, some heavy engineering, and a number of other efforts), water has become a common site all over their property.  Species that had fled long ago are returning and enjoying the reclaimed lushness of the land.  Researchers, photographers, and government officials are regular visitors to the land, seeking to study the impact of the Valer’s efforts and to teach others how relatively primitive solutions can have such a profound effect.

We encourage you to read more about this incredible story by checking out CNN’s article “An Amateur Rancher Brings the Wastelands of the Southwest Back to Life.”

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