Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests

P.O. Box 640
Springerville, AZ 85938
TTY 928-333-6292

For Immediate Release
April 2, 2004 928-333-6263

Contact: Bob Dyson
Eric Neitzel


Springerville, AZ... The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests recently completed a major willow planting project upstream from Nelson Reservoir to help improve water quality and wildlife habitat on Nutrioso Creek. Located in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, Nutrioso Creek is a perennial stream flowing into the Little Colorado River near Springerville and Eagar.

In 1993, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) placed Nutrioso Creek on the State's 303(d) list as an impaired water due to high levels of turbidity from suspended sediment. The reach of stream that is not attaining state surface water quality standards includes the upper portion flowing through Nutrioso Valley on private and National Forest lands, through Nelson Reservoir, and down to Correjo Crossing on the east side of Picnic Hill. In 2000, the ADEQ completed a study to determine specific locations where the total maximum daily load (TMDL) exceeded water quality standards and then made recommendations to address the problem.

As a non-point source of pollution, turbidity can have several causes. The main source of turbidity in Nutrioso Creek is exposed soil along streambanks, a legacy result of historical impacts from large animals such as livestock and elk, as well as other historic land use practices in the area. As stream banks erode into the water, fine soils remain suspended in flowing water. Streambank vegetation such as willows help stabilize banks and reduce erosion by providing a dense and resilient ground cover. A healthy vegetation cover naturally filters sediment out of flowing water, improving and maintaining water quality.

In addition to improving water quality and wildlife habitat, willow plantings along degraded portions of Nutrioso Creek will also help increase the quantity of water available to plants and animals, including drinking water for humans. Tom Subirge, Watershed Specialist on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests explained that "During high flows caused by snow melt or summer monsoons, willows, sedges, and native grasses help store water in streambanks, which is continually released later as surface flow that would not otherwise exist. Currently, the floodplain vegetation along Nutrioso Creek isn't present in sufficient quantities to filter all the sediment and help store water in banks. The willow planting project will help reduce bank erosion and filter out the sediment, increase bank storage of water to help maintain perennial flows, and improve wildlife habitat. These are all important benefits to improving and maintaining stream conditions."

A local rancher and Nutrioso area landowner, Jim Crosswhite, has been cooperating with the ADEQ for several years to implement TMDL recommendations to help reduce turbidity on Nutrioso Creek located on his property, the EC Bar Ranch. For example, in 1996, his riparian areas were in non-functioning condition, but are now trending upward toward proper functioning conditions as a result of various improvements such as willow plantings, fencing to allow controlled rotational livestock grazing, off-channel drinkers for livestock and wildlife, brush management, and installation of an efficient sprinkler irrigation system. Crosswhite said that "In addition to meeting water quality and wildlife habitat improvement objectives, adoption of Best Management Practices with support from the ADEQ, Natural Resource Conservation Agency, Arizona Game & Fish Department, and US Fish & Wildlife Service has helped increase total forage production on my private lands more than 10 times over what it was. Needless to say, I'm sold on Best Management Practices." Crosswhite has utilized public grants in addition to his own funds on a 50-50 basis to make necessary improvements, as well as donating a healthy dose of hard work to get the job done.

Recently, the ADEQ offered to support a proposal by Crosswhite to plant willows on several miles of Nutrioso Creek, including stream reaches on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests downstream from the EC Bar Ranch. Subirge, who coordinated the willow planting project said, "In addition to state and federal agencies who have in the past supported restoration of Nutrioso Creek on the EC Bar Ranch, we also received support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Apache County Supervisor David Brown, the Upper Little Colorado River Watershed group (ULCR), the Town of Eagar, and others. In the long run, the real beneficiaries of this work will be the future generations of this area's residents, including both two and four-legged varieties. Those of us who enjoy taking the kids fishing on Nelson Reservoir, and those who enjoy drinking clean municipal water without needing costly treatment, and those who enjoy recreation in cool riparian areas and clean streams can rest assured that another piece of this Great State of Arizona is being restored."


Dorjee watches willow planting operations along Nutrioso Creek Crews use power augers for willow planting along Nutrioso Creek

The above press release appeared in the White Mountain Independent newspaper on April 16, 2004, page 3A, with the title "Partners work to restore Nutrioso Creek