Updates on LSPWA for Early 2019

Post date: Mar 12, 2019 11:24:28 PM

These updates reported by Peter Else, LSPWA chair.

The last two years have been very active for the Lower San Pedro Watershed Alliance, so active that we have been remiss in updating our website. In addition to our normal on-the-ground conservation activities and our cooperative research and education programs, several of our other program areas are really taking off. If you would like to participate in any of these programs, either with your assistance or your comments, please contact us at LowerSanPedro@gmail.com.

COLLABORATIVE CONSERVATION-- Our overarching program area is collaborative watershed-scale conservation. We are so fortunate to have retired Bureau of Reclamation biologist Diane Laush on our board of directors. While working at that agency, Diane led one of the first attempts to promote collaborative conservation as a founding member of the Lower San Pedro Working Group. Now Diane is leading the effort to expand participation by promoting the Lower San Pedro Collaborative, which currently includes representatives from 20 different entities, including local government, state and federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations.

This Collaborative is not controlled by any one of the participating groups. Meeting are coordinated and led by a professional facilitation company. Initial work groups at the Collaborative focus on inter-county coordination, invasive species and fire management, and promoting a sustainable rural economy. Most of our LSPWA volunteer efforts are focused on watershed-scale conservation, with six of our members actively participating in the Lower San Pedro Collaborative.

January Meeting of the Lower San Pedro Collaborative Steering Committee (photo by Tahnee Robertson)

CONSERVATION EASEMENTS-- There are over 190,000 acres of private and leased land in our watershed designated as various types of conservation easements. As the last remaining natural desert river ecosystem in southern Arizona, the San Pedro River has become the logical choice for mitigating riparian-related impacts caused by development in Arizona’s major growth corridors. Several of our members have been actively involved in monitoring conservation easements in the lower San Pedro watershed, and as of August 27th, 2018, we have accepted responsibility for managing and monitoring the 1420-acre conservation easement held by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation at the 3-Links Farm, located 17 miles north of Benson, Arizona.

Beaver dam on the 3-Links Conservation Easement (photo by Alex Binford-Walsh)

CONSERVATION ADVOCACY-- We have joined with five other conservation groups and the legal support organization EarthJustice to advocate for studying the impacts of the proposed 70,000-resident Villages at Vigneto development in Benson, Arizona, which would depend exclusively on groundwater withdrawals. Rapidly building a city of this size adjacent to a threatened desert river ecosystem will obviously have impacts that extend beyond Vigneto’s property boundaries. We no longer live in the territorial days, so we must look before we leap. And, if you want to support a legal group that is actively working to protect the San Pedro River, please donate to the Denver office of EarthJustice, and let them know that you were referred by LSPWA: https://earthjustice.org/about/offices/rocky-mountain

Vigneto’s developers propose to replicate an Italian ecosystem, but in this case based on groundwater withdrawal in the Sonoran desert of Arizona. This context-insensitive image was distributed for promotional purposes by the developer. LSPWA is requesting that the impacts of such a radical change be studied before issuing a federal permit.

Peter Else’s legal case challenging the stated basis of the Arizona Corporation Commission’s decision to approve a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility for SunZia’s proposed new industrial-scale infrastructure corridor through 33 miles of previously undisturbed land in the lower San Pedro watershed went all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court. The decision by the Arizona Corporation Commission resulted from a close 3-to-2 vote, with the stated basis of the deciding vote depending upon glowing benefit claims that were not backed up with evidence of large-scale demand nor with an economic feasibility analysis. If the project is allowed to move forward, it is likely to be significantly different in scope and purpose than was claimed by the project sponsors. The Arizona courts have decided that a significant change in scope and purpose will not be ripe for judicial review unless and until it becomes obvious following initiation of construction that the scope and purpose were misrepresented. However, at that point, some degree of damage will already have been done.

New infrastructure corridors tend to expand in impacts and become routes for off-highway vehicular traffic, greatly fragmenting previously undisturbed natural areas. This infrastructure should be co-located with existing linear infrastructure impacts to the highest degree possible.

Following the election of Donald Trump as president, newly-appointed EPA administrators in Washington D.C. started encouraging states to take over permit and enforcement aspects of the federal Clean Water Act. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the Arizona Legislature jumped on this as a political opportunity. Lower San Pedro Watershed Alliance representatives participated in three initial meetings with ADEQ, and immediately noted that the State agency had not presented to the public a detailed description of the Clean Water Act permit/enforcement program that the State would be replacing. Once again, LSPWA is insisting that our governmental representatives must aim before they start firing. We have requested a detailed description of the staffing and funding required to assume the federal program, along with a basic feasibility analysis. The State is currently planning to move forward without first describing what we are trying to replicate, in order to complete the transition before the 2020 federal elections.

Unauthorized dredge-and-fill projects like this one, an earthen dike constructed perpendicular to the main channel of the San Pedro River, currently are investigated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who subsequently required that this dike be removed. If the State assumes enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act, it becomes more likely that local politics will have greater influence on enforcement actions affecting the ecology of our last remaining natural waterways in Arizona.

One of our directors, Matt Clark, has been working with the Arizona Sustainable Water Work Group to promote recognition of ecological water as a beneficial use in Arizona water statutes. Arizona water law was mostly developed during the territorial days when it was assumed that the only beneficial use of our water resources are consumptive uses by humans. Now we are in the situation where our last remaining natural rivers and springs are threatened by over-consumption. Recognizing ecological water as a beneficial use would allow water right holders to voluntarily transfer some of their allocations to the health of these threatened waterways.

We take the advice of native people seriously. We care about what remains of our natural environment. We care about future generations, and we want them to experience more of the diverse web of life than strip malls and virtual reality. We don’t want our generation to write the last chapter in How the West Was Lost. It this sounds important to you, please join us in our collaborative, educational, research, and advocacy efforts.

This is fine for the cities,

but let’s protect what is left of this: