June 19, 2002

Governor Jane Dee Hull prepares to follow Jim Crosswhite on a tour of the EC Bar ranch at Nutrioso June 7. The cattle ranch is a model for use of Clean Water Act grant funding to improve the environment- and was chosen as the site of a celebration of "2002, The Year of Clean Water." (photo by Robert Lucas)

Nutrioso Rancher Jim Crosswhite Leads Clean Water Effort in Ariz.

He has improved economics of cattle ranching while also improving the environment, by restoring Nutrioso Creek and surrounding pasture land

Robert Lucas

Apache and Navajo County leaders gathered with Governor Jane Dee Hull at Jim Crosswhite's EC Bar, ranch in Nutrioso June 7 to celebrate the Year of Clean Water. Congress proclaimed the year-long celebration to commemorate the 30th anniversary of passage of the Clean Water Act, October 1972

Crosswhite's efforts to improve water quality in Nutrioso Creek using Clean Water Act Section 319 funding and numerous other grants is a major success story. "We have done an awful lot in this state, since the CAP [Central Arizona Project], that ditch, has been dug, to provide clean water," proclaimed Hull,. speaking to the group gathered in a large tent at the EC Bar.

Praising the political change in Washington; D. C. since Gale Norton became Secretary of Interior, Hull said "they are actually talking to local people" now. As an example, the Governor noted recent approval of Tucson Electric Power plans to enlarge Springerville Generating Station, which she visited immediately following her tour of the Crosswhite ranch.

One of the major benefits is "the jobs," she pointed out, "but not only that. We are looking after our own energy needs. We don't want to end up like California."

"Like all the acts, I always say, in Washington I wish they would legislate for Arizona and not Washington, DC. But, we are making progress with clean water. Obviously, clean drinking water, is something we all need."
Governor Jane Dee Hull on the clean Water Act

Hull concluded by expressing, a need to show urban citizens "what is going on in the delicate balance of the environment." And this will requite urban-rural cooperation.

"It becomes more and more important," she stressed, "that we look at consensus; and how we get people to the table. Because, without that, everything will grind to a halt."

The Crosswhite ranch was selected for celebration because it is a role model for private initiative, with generous' government support, to raise cattle while improving the environment, even cleaning up the mistakes of the past.

As the Governor spoke, there were no cattle to. be seen. Indeed, Crosswhite does not run cows in the Spring and summer months, concentrating instead on growing feed to support as many as 300 large "stocker" animals purchased al September bargain prices, fattened over the winter, then sold when prices are high between January and March.

This radical business plan avoids the :expense of year-round labor costs, breeding, calving, animal mortality and constant herd maintenance. During the forage growing season, Crosswhite becomes a farmer, and uses federal and state grant money to improve irrigation methods, rehabilitate the range that had suffered from years of overgrazing, and return Nutrioso Creek to its former status as a clear mountain stream.

"Governor Hull has led our efforts to preserve and protect Arizona's natural Beauty.... EC Bar Ranch's achievements serve as an excellent example of the power of environmental stewardship on private land:"
Jacqueline E Schafer, ADEQ Director

Crosswhite reported in a magazine article last year for the Conservation Technology Information Center, that about half the cost of these environmental improvements, comes out of his own pocket. The remainder of the $1,000 invested in every acre comes from grant funding

The strapping Texan purchased the historic 275-acre ranch in 1996 and found it in sad shape. Pastures had lost much of the native grass cover and become overrun with woody rabbitbrush; capable of supporting only about 50 head of cattle over the entire property.

Crosswhite went to work, in the field, shadowed by his trusty Australian shepherd, Dorjee, and at the computer in sprawling board-and-bat home. The old irrigation ditch that wasted as much 100 million gallons a year was replaced with pipe, a 250,000 gallon tank salvaged from a sawmill, and a huge diesel-driven 1,500 gallon-per-minute pump driving efficient traveling gun sprinklers.

The rabbitbrush was plowed up be replaced with range grasses. Many miles of cross-fencing allows pasture rotation. . It is all documented at the ranch website,, complete with costs, maps, articles, species listings, and in some cases, entire grant applications.

"Now lucky for us to find someone like Jim Crosswhite to help us find our way."
—Karen Smith, AQEQ Water Quality Division

Before Crosswhite came along, year-round grazing, with unhindered access to the creek, had taken its toll during the extended drought of the nineties. In November, 1999, recalled Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ Water Quality Division Director' Karen Smith, her office began investigating Nutrioso Creek, a 27-mile tributary of the Little Colorado River.

We discovered, explained Smith, speaking to the June 7 gathering, that past and ongoing grazing practices had created increased turbidity (murky water). Loss of grass and the spread of rabbitbrush was allowing top soil to be washed into the creek, which had incised a deep gulch with exposed muddy banks after cattle and elk ate away willows and sedges growing in the water.

"How lucky we are that we found Jim Crosswhite," said Smith

A way to reduce sediment loading in Nutrioso Creek had to be found. The only solution was to get cattle out of the riparian corridor, except in winter, she recalled.

In 1993, all of Nutrioso Creek had been-listed on the state's Clean Water Act 303(d) list of impaired waterways, with three miles of private land and four miles of National Forest land in need of special attention.

"I've more than doubled the number of animal units I cooperate per Acre by improving water quality through best management practices. This enhancing habitat for wildlife while improving ranch economics."
—Jim Crosswhite, EC Bar ranch

Grant money began to flow. Crosswhite tapped into sources at ADEQ, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Arizona State Land Department Stewardship Incentive Program, Arizona Dept. of Water Resources Arizona Water Protection Fund, Arizona Game and Fish, US Forest Service and US Environmental Protection Agency for several hundred thousand dollars over the past six years to fund a wide variety of projects. The practices on my ranch would not have ' been possible without this help, acknowledged Crosswhite.

Restoration of Nutrioso Creek took the farm of fencing the riparian area to exclude elk and cattle and replanting soilholding grasses and willows. Drinkers for the animals were constructed away from the creek.

By 1999, ADEQ testing showed turbidity levels in the waterway had stabilized. During the severe drought of 2000, only those parts of the creek flowing through the EC Bar retained pools of water, something essential to the survival of the Little Colorado River Spinedace, an endangered native fish.

During the restoration project expected to last for five years, Smith said her staff has seen improvement 'after only ', two years. "It is the commitment of an ' individual who is willing to do all the, hard work, that makes this work for all the people of Arizona," she concluded.

"The state has committed $8 million to upper Little Colorado riparian development."
—David Brown, Apache County Supervisor Dist. III

In appreciation, Smith, and her boss, ADEQ Director Jacqueline Schafer, presented Crosswhite with a plaque and poster, to the sound of hearty applause.

After enjoying lunch under the tent, the gathered guests heard from Eagar Town Manager and Chairman of the Upper Little Colorado River Watershed Partnership Bill Greenwood. When this valley was settled before the turn of the century, he remarked, it was to dry-farm grain for Fort Apache, and Nutrioso briefly became a larger settlement than Springerville and Eagar.

But then drought came, and many farms were lost..

"I had. two great-grandparents who homesteaded in this valley," mentioned Greenwood. "So this is a special place for me."

Apache County Supervisor David A. Brown returned from escorting the Governor to TEP's electric station and spoke about the challenges facing ranchers like Crosswhite. Brown noted his 14-years as legal council for the Arizona Cattle Growers Association and his representation of small growers on the San Pedro and Verde rivers in their struggle for water rights.

After announcing that a settlement of the Little Colorado River Adjudication of water. rights had been reached with Zuni pueblo, Brown decried the' burden of protracted litigation. Fear of litigation hinders projects like those at EC Bar.

And the same problems exist for cattlemen all over, explained Brown. They face loss of grazing land and have to get cattle out of riparian areas. But they need to avoid having the litigation gun held to their heads.

Brown said he grew up on his father's ranch in St. Johns at a time when it was is still the same size, but now; one of the largest ranches remaining. " Most of the bigger outfits have been converted into "ranchette" subdivisions.