Riparian Restoration on Nutrioso Creek, Arizona
Jim Crosswhite - EC Bar Ranch
|In 1996, I acquired the EC Bar Ranch, a 300-acre spread
located in the White Mountains of northeastern Arizona. The ranch included a
1'/2 mile stretch of Nutrioso Creek; another mile of this riparian area was
added in 2000 through the purchase of an additional 100 acres. The land
presented numerous challenges from the start. Upland pastures were infested
with rabbitbrush and sumac. Blue gramma, the predominant grass species,
yielded only 300 pounds per acre. Due to lack of vegetation and eroding
streambanks, the riparian area was essentially nonfunctional. The earth
ditch irrigation system was in disrepair and fencing was altogether lacking.
(above) Nutrioso Creek at EC Bar Ranch, (below left) planting willow seedlings; (below) installation of stream stabilization structures. Photos by Jim Crosswhite.
|Water quality in Nutrioso Creek also presented a significant problem. A report released in 2000 by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) identified excessive levels of turbidity along seven miles of the creek. With four fish species inhabiting the creek, including the endangered Lower Colorado River spinedace minnow, turbidity had the potential to adversely affect both irrigation water and property rights. But ADEQ's report on total maximum daily load (TMDL) for turbidity also offered numerous recommendations to improve water quality that have been successfully adopted:|
Prior to restoration efforts, the creek periodically dried up under mild drought conditions, causing loss of habitat for all fish and many other wildlife species. In three of the last four years, which were characterized by severe drought, Nutrioso Creek has been dry upstream and downstream from the property, but pools and running water on EC Bar Ranch have kept alive the vegetation, fish, and other wildlife that are dependent on the riparian area. In 2002, the condition of the riparian area was rated by an independent consultant as "on an upward trend," with many places "in proper functioning condition."
More partnerships are being developed to extend water quality improvement practices downstream, increase wildlife habitat, and improve ranching economics. Those interested in applying best management practices on their property may also find riparian fencing, dormant season livestock grazing, and willow plantings to be basic yet very productive and cost-effective practices to implement.
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