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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Arizona (Section 319I - 1994)

Arizona's nonpoint source program is partnership oriented. It seeks to find entities that are able and willing to work toward nonpoint source management goals and foster cooperation to get the job done. The Chino Winds Project is an example of the strides that can be made when diverse parties develop and carry out a coordinated plan to improve water quality.

Partnership Develops Multiple Pasture Grazing System

Grazing in arid Arizona, much like in the rest of the Southwest, tends to concentrate around water sources. This leads to overgrazing damage around rivers, streams, and lakes. As a result, vast amounts of grazable lands are untouched and unused. Damage to watersheds includes erosion, sediment, and nutrient loading into streams that seriously affects water quality. Another problem in Arizona is the multiple or checkerboard pattern of land ownership, made up of an alternating mixture of publicly and privately owned lands. Add to this the multiple jurisdictions and responsibilities of a host of federal, state, local, and private agencies and interests, and you have what could be deadlock in planning and using innovative technology to remedy the situation.

The Chino Winds Demonstration Project, located on the Yavapai Ranch 26 miles south of Seligman, is proving that these obstacles are far from insurmountable. Through the cooperation of 11 agencies and the private owner, the state currently has a project to test a holistic grazing system on multiple ownership lands to improve water quality. The project also evaluates alternative ways to measure watershed conditions and quality in arid regions that lack year-round water flows.

The project sets up a system of rotational grazing on a 110,000-acre ranch with a checkerboard of public and private lands. Deferred rotational grazing divides the land into numerous fenced paddocks where cattle graze - intensely for short periods of time--from 2 to 30 days-- before being moved on to another paddock. The grazed area is then allowed to regenerate for an entire growing season. This system requires a fencing network across the entire land and a distribution system to supply water to each pasture. The distribution of water promotes more uniform rangeland use and, accompanied by the traditional management systems, reduces the extremes of over and under use.

Phase I of the project started in FY 1990 and was completed in September 1993. A coordinated resource management plan was developed over 18 months by numerous groups with diverse and vested interests. Agencies - responsible for developing the plan included the U.S. Forest Service, Arizona State Land Department, SCS, and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Also included were the University of Arizona School of Renewable and Natural Resources, Cooperative Extension, Chino Winds Natural Resource Conservation District, and the Arizona Department of Game and Fish.

Phase I, funded by a $90,000 section 319 grant, included installing fencing, pipelines, and a water distribution system for both livestock and wildlife. In-kind services such as labor, equipment, and computer mapping were provided by state, local, and private sources. The university provided watershed monitoring, and conservation groups and private citizens are converting existing fencing to fencing that does not restrict the movement of wildlife. A Phase II, $87,000 section 319 grant has been approved.

Another component of the project is to develop a surrogate system to measure water quality impacts. Because the flow of surface water on Arizona rangelands is intermittent, changes in water quality are difficult to determine. Therefore, measurable improvements from BMPs may be impossible to document. This project correlates coverage vegetation to sediment discharges and extrapolates water quality information by measuring the amount and biodiversity of the vegetation.

The project is being monitored during the implementation phase to ensure that BMPs are properly installed. Baseline data was collected on initial vegetation and frequency of plant species. A survey was conducted to - determine public attitudes and perceptions of grazing management efforts to improve water quality. Although the complete results of the demonstration may not be seen for 10 years, this project provides an important opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of BMPs on arid lands.

Public Education Tackles Tourist Burden

Quartzsite is a small desert community of about 1,900 residents, mostly retired. Its economy is supported by a January through February gem show, which each year attracts as many as a million visitors, many of whom are campers. This seasonal influx has caused a great burden on the upper groundwater aquifer, compounding an existing problem of improperly maintained septic systems. A study to determine the effects of this seasonal burgeoning on groundwater quality, begun in August 1987 by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), found high levels of nitrates in the groundwater of the shallow aquifer. In March 1991, an exhaustive study found that the contamination was caused by illegal dumping of waste and septage from recreational vehicles. This led to an agreement between the state agency and the town to conduct the Quartzsite Educational and Technical Transfer Program.

The program was designed to help the community develop a strategy for educating its population about the reason the aquifer was contaminated, point out the resulting illness from high nitrate levels in the drinking water, and develop a solution to the problem. A 319 grant supplied the $32,400 used to fund the program in 1991 and 1992.

The program created an advisory council to oversee activities, collect and evaluate existing groundwater data, and establish a public information campaign that includes brochures, guest speakers, and presentations at local fairs and public meetings. The effectiveness of the public education program was measured through two surveys--one taken three months into the program and the second, one month before its end. The findings showed a 245 percent increase in public meeting attendance and a 185 percent increase in public knowledge about the problems of high nitrate levels. As a result, 95 percent of the community supported the concept of a wastewater treatment facility.

After discussing a number of alternatives at public meetings, the community decided to address the problem by building a regional wastewater treatment system. It will include creating several recreational vehicle dump - stations around the community. This solution will allow ADEQ to lift a ban on further development, in effect for more than three years, enabling the community to benefit from housing and commercial development.

 


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