March 2001

Nonpoint Source

The Condition of the Water-Related Environment
The Control of Nonpoint Sources of Water Pollution
The Ecological Management & Restoration of Watersheds

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Conservation Improves Water Quality and Ranching Profits

Jim Crosswhite believes a healthy environment is the key to economic prosperity in ranching -and he is working to prove it. In 1996, he purchased a 300-acre ranch in Arizona's White Mountains. Known as the EC Bar Ranch, the land had been plowed, planted, and grazed since it was settled in the 1880s. However, beginning about 1970, farming declined for many reasons -including increasing numbers of elk that competed for forage, low livestock prices, a reduction in public grazing allotments, and declining pasture quality caused by overgrazing and encroachment of the invasive rabbitbrush plant. Many ranchers in the area no longer found ranching profitable and sold their land. Jim Crosswhite saw an opportunity to reverse this trend by implementing more economical and environmentally friendly ranching techniques.

Soon after he purchased the ranch in 1996, Crosswhite sought a professional evaluation of the riparian corridor along the 1.5-mile segment of Nutrioso Creek running through his land. Using the Bureau of Land Management's Functional Rating System, a consultant concluded that the riparian zone was "nonfunctional" in places and "functional-at-risk in a downward trend" in others. The streambanks appeared unstable and severely impacted from long-time overuse by livestock grazing. Erosion accelerated with each new storm. The stream supported little aquatic vegetation, ground water recharge was minimal, and water quality was poor. There was work to be done!

The Steps to Recovery

Crosswhite turned to Brian Sorenson, a conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Springerville, Arizona, to prepare a conservation plan for the ranch. "The conservation plan serves as a road map to follow while we pursue funding and implement practices," explained Crosswhite. The plan includes several measures to manage livestock, including

Other plan components include

When first installed, the riparian fencing incorporated several temporary water gaps to allow livestock and wildlife easy access to drinking water. With a $19,800 grant he received in December 1998 from the Arizona Water Protection Fund (AWPF), Crosswhite installed alternative watering systems (wells and cattle waterers) that give both livestock and wildlife a reliable water source and allowed closure of the water gaps in the riparian fencing. As part of the matching funds required for the grant, Crosswhite contributed $5,000 for the electric power and piping. The following year, the AWPF provided another $30,000 to extend the number of alternative watering systems along elk migration routes on Crosswhite's property to reduce the elks' impact on the creek's riparian corridor. As part of the AWPF project, a range consultant will study the elk, inventory the wildlife and vegetation, and assess the success of the livestock management plan over time.

Crosswhite also implemented other strategies. He received 75 percent matching funds through NRCS' Environmental Quality Improvement Program (EQIP) to install about 3,000 feet of cross-fencing on his pastures and seven stream grade stabilization structures along Nutrioso Creek. He also tackled the rabbitbrush problem by combining mowing, plowing, and overseeding with grass seed in his pastures. The establishment of new grass was hampered by foraging elk herds, so Crosswhite and the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) entered into a cooperative agreement to make the losses more manageable. AGFD supplied $7,300 worth of seed and fertilizer, and Crosswhite agreed to apply it annually for three years.

Has the Work Paid Off?

By 1999 several improvements had been noted on Crosswhite's Nutrioso Creek segment. A wetter-than-normal growing season in 1999 resulted in above average creek water levels that raised the water table and deposited sediment at the stream grade stabilization structures, creating large pools. In response to the improving health of the stream and riparian corridor, vegetation and wildlife diversity began to rebound. A second Riparian Functional Evaluation, performed in July 2000, indicated that the segment's rating had improved to "functional-at risk with an upward trend." Over the next few years, as the riparian corridor continues to improve, the rating is expected to improve to the highest rating of "proper functioning condition." During monitoring required for the development of the Nutrioso Creek total maximum daily load (TMDL) for turbidity, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) found that turbidity was lower in Crosswhite's fenced-off portions of the riparian zone than in other parts of the creek. In fact, ADEQ was so impressed by Crosswhite's results that the final TMDL (Nutrioso Creek TMDL for Turbidity, July 2000) recommended that all of the practices currently in place on the EC Bar Ranch be expanded along the seven miles of creek where water quality is impaired.

No One Can Stop Him!

In 2000, Crosswhite decided to purchase an additional mile of the creek, bringing 2.5-miles of Nutrioso Creek under his control and his conservation plan. In August 2000, he was awarded section 319 funding through the ADEQ Water Quality Grant Improvement Program to implement all the practices recommended in the TMDL report. The ADEQ reimbursed up to 60 percent of his expenses. Crosswhite estimates that by 2003, ADEQ will have contributed about $150,000 or 50 percent of the total cost of all practices implemented. "The ADEQ and I are working together in hopes that within a few years Nutrioso Creek will meet and maintain the water quality standards for turbidity, and be removed from the state's list of impaired waters."

Hope for the Future

Pleased by this positive beginning, Crosswhite is convinced that conservation practices can help increase ranching profits. In fact, he is planning even more improvements in the future. Before the next irrigation season in 2001, he plans to convert the open-ditch irrigation system to a pressurized sprinkler system that targets water on crops to better improve forage. Sprinklers will also be used to grow grass on exposed streambanks to restore the riparian zone and improve water quality. "We lose approximately 100 million gallons, or 307 acre-feet, of water from evaporation and seepage in open earth ditches during the 150-day irrigation season. Using the value of water rights in New Mexico as a guide, the value of this lost water is $307,000. But when you consider the loss of crop production due to lack of available water, the actual cost is significant, although hard to put into annual losses," he said. The goal will be to remove less water and to improve water quality and riparian habitat.

Crosswhite enthusiastically shares his ideas with others. He is active in local watershed organizations and works closely with public agency staff. Even though he has contributed a lot of time and considerable personal funds toward the projects, he notes that the projects could never have been implemented without public funding and technical support, especially from the ADEQ and EPA. He plans to share some of his experiences by offering workshops beginning next year. Interested persons can join monthly group tours of his ranch.

For more information on the Nutrioso Creek TMDL, contact Shad Bowman, ADEQ, 500 North Third Street, Phoenix, AZ 85004, Phone: (602) 207-7664; e-mail]