ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
PHOENIX, FRIDAY April 7, 2000  Volume 101 ISSUE 14  ONE DOLLAR

State Grants Are Helping To Restore
Ranchlands and Riparian Areas

 

by Charlotte Buchen

Jim Crosswhite, whose career in international finance took him to 70 countries, some of them "home" for more than 10 years. chose to settle in a remote Arizona "town without Street lights". In 1996. he bought a ranch some 15 miles south of Eagar/Springerville on Highway 180 in the White Mountains.

It lies in the center of the Nutrioso Valley with 1-1/4 miles of Nutrioso Creek running through 380 acres of pasture. When he bought the ranching property, originally homesteaded in 1882. he was confronted with the same environmental challenges that face other Arizona ranchers and are driving them out of business.

However, with a little bit of "if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em" foresight. Mr. Crosswhite has chosen not to fight the U.S. Forest Service, whose environmental lawsuits, he says, have directed public policy and led to cutbacks on grazing permits.

Rather, he is capitalizing on the available financial support and expertise of a variety of’ federal and state agencies to meet requirements to repair, enhance, and restore the land, streams, rivers, and associated riparian habitat. That includes resources of the U.S. Forest Service. Environmental Protection Agency. Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Arizona Department of Water Resources. National Resource Conservation Service, and others.

His goal is to make his ranch productive and share his knowledge and experience in securing grants with other ranchers to help them slay in business.

That’s why he’s a big supporter of the Arizona Water Protection Fund, which is administered through the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

The 15-member Water Protection Fund Commission approved a grant for Mr. Crosswhite’s EC Bar Ranch that allowed him to put water wells on each side or the creek so he could install "drinkers" outside the riparian zone that was fenced to keep livestock out to allow the grasses to grow.

Not only does that provide water for livestock during the growing season, but it has allowed Mr. Crosswhite to test an Arizona Game and Fish Department theory that providing water and feed outside the riparian zone for migrating elk will divert them from jumping the fence. The Water Protection Fund funded the elk study.’

The verdict is still out on what the elk will do, Mr. Crosswhite says, but if it "turns out the drinkers are successful in reducing elk activity in the riparian zone, it could be helpful to many others."

 

The Benefits

Already his livestock management efforts have paid off with increased forage in growing periods and proof that grazing periods are beneficial for the land, Issues in his restoration mix include sediment-contaminated water in the creek, a problem he intends to solve with a grant he’s been awarded by DEQ which he won, he says. by following the criteria demanded by the Arizona Water Protection Fund Commission.

"When you apply for one of their grants." he says. "you really have to have thought through all aspects of’ your project. On a scale of one to 10 with 10 the tops. the Arizona Water Protection Fund people are tops in professionalism. That’s why I follow their format for proposals when I apply anywhere."

They get results, too.

"I’ve done these projects on my ranch, and now my neighbors want to do it, "Mr. Crosswhite says.

Mr. Crosswhite is so committed to helping other ranchers stay in business that he’s developed a Web site (www.ecbarranch.com) which provides detailed information on how they, too, can return their ranches to productivity through restoration and enhancement. He wants to hear from them, he says.

The EC Bar Ranch projects are small - in the neighborhood of $20,000 -relative to some projects funded by the Arizona Water Protection Fund Commission.

A project to maintain health of the riparian habitat along the Verde River and involving a livestock grazing system that excludes cattle from the Verde is being conducted by the Alraida Land and Cattle Company with a grant of $115,300.

Other projects funded for $200,000 to as high as $2.5 million have gone to grantees in every part of the state, including Indian tribes, universities, private ranches, cities and towns, home owners associations, environmental groups, campground sponsors, and even state agencies.

DEQ, for example, received a $90,000 grant, according to the Fund’s annual report, to dispatch a team of scientists to determine the extent of impact on Aravaipa Creek from runoff or leaching of contaminated mine tailings at the Kiondyke tailings pile in Graham County.

Another project, also in Graham County and funded with about $113,000, was completed by the Smithville Canal Co. The company capped a deep, artesian geothermal well near the Gila River north of Thatcher which was spewing saltwater, not unlike some of the huge artesian wells in the Safford area which also were capped with money from the water protection fund.

The Process

The Arizona Water Protection Fund was established by the Legislature in 1994. Roger Manning, commission chairman, said nearly $20 million has been granted since the first funding in 1995. The number of grants has reached more than 90.

The fund is unique in that Arizona law requires that the Legislature allocate $5 million annually to the fund for distribution to individuals or entities whose proposals are approved. However, the Legislature has not always provided full funding for the program, despite the law, says Mr. Manning.

Mr. Manning says without an appropriation this year there will be a limited amount of money to work with, perhaps a carryover of about $2 million, to allow for the grant review process to go through its normal cycle ending with some grant allocations in December, 2000. Last December, grants totaled about $7 million. The only reason there is a carryover this year is because a large grant reverted to the fund, he says.

To win grants, Mr. Manning says. proposals must clearly define the problems, offer fully developed solutions, and present specific plans of action.

"We evaluate that and make a decision as to which ones to fund," Mr. Manning says. "That is different From most federal or slate gr’ant programs where the state or fed decides here’s the problem and here’s the solution I want and now come in and apply for a grant to do what I already decided to do."

Answering A Threat

The Arizona Water Protection Fund came out of a "threat" from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. Mr. Manning is and was at that time executive director of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association and thus closely involved. He recalls that when Mr. Babbitt became involved in the Town of Payson plan to sell its Central Arizona Project (CAP) water to Scottsdale, mr Babbitt proposed that about 10 percent of the proceeds of the sale be skimmed off and put in a federal environmental restoration fund for use throughout the Western United States.

Hey, we said, we have a problem taking an Arizona resource and converting it to something that would be used probably more outside than inside Arizona. A group of us proposed, with leadership from the [House] Speaker Marc Killian, to put together an Arizona fund for riparian restoration and those sorts of things," Mr. Mannings says.

Upon learning of that. Mr. Babbitt agreed to back off with understanding the fund would be established by the Legislature.

The Legislature did not think skimming money off the proceeds of the sale was a good idea either, so instead it was decided to put it in Arizona law that $5 million would be appropriated annually for the fund.

"The reality is they haven’t followed the law." Mr. Mannings says. He chuckles about it. "Yes, we tell them," he says.

Mr. Mannings says the Arizona Water Protection Fund does not have a lot of vocal advocates from the political sector. It’s just too small to get much attention.

However, its 15-member commission is a "diverse group," he says, with individuals who are active enthusiasts for the work involved and seldom miss meetings. They are appointed by the governor, the speaker and the president of the senate.

Staff Support

The commission is backed by an administrative budget which provides three project managers to give the commission staff support, provide information or research resources, and hire consultants for special situations. Staff helped the commission organize and conduct its first Information Transfer Meeting, which drew more than 200 people in mid-March to speeches and workshops related to a relatively new science called "restoration ecology," says Perri Benemelis, one of the project managers assigned to the commission by the Water Resources Department. All involved in restoration work in one way or another, the 200 strived to exchange specific information about ground restoration work.

Among the participants was Fred Phillips, who was a Purdue University student in landscape architecture six years ago when he started working for the Colorado River Indian Tribes on what was to become a major riparian restoration program. He has written a 17-page unpublished article subtitled: "Leveraging a vision and a summer job into a 1,042-acre restoration project on tribal lands."

His work virtually completed, he says from his new office in Durango, Colo., that the project was a success and the primary funding source was the Arizona Water Protection Fund with two grants, one for $971,000 and another for $380,000.

The money, granted to the Ahakhav Tribal Council, contributed largely to the revegetation of 400 acres of salt cedar with native cottonwood, willow and mesquite, and allowed them to dig out historic river channels in the area which increased water quality and population density for fish in restored backwaters.

The success of the first project. with a grant of $971,000 to restore 100 acres of native riparian vegetation and dig out five miles of historic river channels, led to the second $380,000 grant.

Mr. Phillips says the project site is at the Ahakhav Tribal Preserve, located two miles south of Parker. The tribes use the area for recreation and education, and it is used by local schools for environmental education classes.

Trees planted three or four years ago are now 30 to 40 feet high, he says, and vegetation is two to three times what it was when the unwanted invading exotic plants had taken over.

Students from as many as 10 different colleges and universities have gone there for education and research, and more than 15 federal agencies have visited the site, looking at the preserve as a prototype for restoration. He encourages people interested in riparian restoration to call the Tribal Preserve offices at 520-669-2664 for Information.

Now that the project is completed, Mr. Phillips says he fully intends to stay in the landscape architectural field of land plan-fling and restoration. He has his shingle out in offices in Durango and has started a new project for the Grand Canyon Wild-land Council, a Flagstaff nonprofit agency. He helped to write a grant proposal to the Arizona Water Protection Fund Commission for $380,000 to revegetate 10 acres at Lee’s Ferry (Marble Canyon) and tamarisk removal at 63 side canyons within the Grand Canyon, replacing the exotic tamarisk with native vegetation. The grant has been awarded. and he will be the project coordinator.

"I still want to work with the Colorado River and the Colorado Plateau." he says. He also would be happy to share his 17-page document, which he calls "project notes." regarding the Ataakhav project if anyone would find them helpful.

Mr. Manning says there are lots of projects to restore and rehabilitate riparian systems all over Arizona, and there are lots of people at grass roots levels who can identify them and want to do something about them.

"A number of our ‘sins of the past – I should say practices’ - have had adverse impact on much of the river and riparian systems of the state, and this fund is an effort to try and do some restoration and rehabilitation of those systems," he says. "You can see we have some projects incredibly successful for fairly low amounts of investment when you consider the benefits."

 

Charlotte Buchen is a free-lance writer based In Phoenix

 

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