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Volunteers report more water in San Pedro River after annual mapping

SAN PEDRO RIVER — Last weekend, over 100 volunteers were out again on the San Pedro River for the 21st annual wet/dry mapping project supported by The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

The volunteers are split up into teams with each one taking a stretch of river, called reaches, which are sections of a river with similar hydrological conditions.

Each year, teams trek the shoreline from the border north to the confluence with the Gila River, some 155 miles. They wade through the shallow river to note the reaches and parts of reaches which are wet and which are dry during the hotest and driest part of the year prior to the start of the monsoons.

For TNC hydrologist Holly Richter, it is a labor of love and a good excuse to spend a cool morning or two following the twists and turns of the river and its many tributaries, checking its health and gathering data on streamflow or lack of streamflow. This year, she walked five miles of the San Pedro River and rode horseback for eight along the Baboquivari River, a tributary.

Richter has mapped reaches since the inception of the wet/dry project back in 1999.

“I started the mapping project when I moved here in 1998 to work along the San Pedro for The Nature Conservancy because there was so much disagreement about how much water the San Pedro River actually had,” she said.

“So, we asked volunteers to go out in teams, look at the river and map where they found water at the driest time of year. That provided the beginning conversations about local water issues and what was really happening. There was so much enthusiasm for the project after that first year, it became an annual volunteer event.”

“It’s also grown to include much of the river from its headwaters in Mexico all the way down to the confluence with the Gila River, and many its larger tributaries.”

Wet/dry mapping is simple thanks to hand-held GPS units. The volunteers record the beginning and endpoints of every wet portion along a stream or river. Using GIS software, these points are later translated to lines on a map for display and analysis.

TNC’s wet/dry mapping project builds goodwill between people and helps toward a common understanding of the river and its status. The streams and rivers covered by wet/dry mapping flow through a mix of public and private lands.

The TNC program has been recognized for its technical merit and scientific value, explained Richter.

“This year for World Water Day, the National Academy of Sciences recognized the river mapping technique developed on the San Pedro as an important tool for citizen scientists to use for measuring water availability in desert rivers,” she noted.

“We have not seen a long-term decline of flows throughout the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA), based on the wet/dry data collected so far,” Richter explained.

“In fact, the area near Palominas has shown an improving trend in terms of the wetted length of river in that area. The volume of water pumped in that area nearest the river has declined and that has likely improved the groundwater levels. Last year the SPRNCA was the driest it has been since wet/dry mapping started in 1999.”

Ted Mouras is a dedicated volunteer who has been wet/dry mapping for 14 years. He and TNC teammate Brooke Bushman trekked five miles of the river from Charleston Bridge to Boston Mill. He, too, saw more water in the reach than the previous year, though it was still dry for about 20 percent of its length.

“We now have 20 years of wet/dry survey data, so we are at a point where we can begin to note if there are any trends. We certainly have insight into changes seen over this period of time,” he said.

Mouras added, “I do this because I believe it’s important to protect the last free-flowing desert river in Arizona, and the way to protect it is through data. The wet/dry survey is one of the data points used to assess the health of the river. Of course, I also enjoy walking on the river.”

The volunteers also report on the wildlife they see and this year they spotted a bevy of furred, feathered and scaled critters. A big horn sheep was seen in a Lower San Pedro tributary.

Wild turkeys, great horned owls, woodhouse toads, great blue herons, a Gila monster, gray and red-tailed hawks, Sonoran box turtles, javelina, deer, fish, ducks and crayfish were also seen. Tracks of a mountain lion were found in two different locations.

“The fact that over 100 people help map hundreds of miles of the river and its tributaries, when it’s the hottest, driest time to be out there year after year, attests to how much people all along the river care about it,” Richter said.

“Different people might care about it for different reasons, but it’s really heartening to see what can be done when many different communities come together toward a common purpose.”

There is much said about trying to strike a balance between protecting the river and development,” Mouras continued. “But any ‘balance’ by its very nature comes at the expense of the river. Given that this is the last of its kind and the only north-south oriented, relatively intact river between the Rio Grande and Colorado River, I’d argue that maybe this time we should error on the side of protecting this last of its kind.”

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Home sweet home: Cochise College's Residential Construction program home sells

SIERRA VISTA — The lot at 312 N. Second St. in the Fry Township has served as a hands-on-learning lab for students at Cochise College about the last nine months. A three-bedroom home that stands there now is the result of two semesters of study and instruction for the first class of students to complete the college’s new Residential Construction and Technology program.

Now that the home, which served as a way to teach students construction, is completed, it will go on to serve a new group — an Army family of five closing on the home next week.

The home is the first to be completed by the college’s program and 11 students earned their certificates.

“I would say about 90 percent (of the home construction) was done by the students under my guidance,” said RCT instructor Doug Schlarbaum. “Every phase of it they were involved in, from the framing, siding, roofing, flooring, cabinets, everything.”


Residential Construction Technology Program Instructor Doug Schlarbaum walks through the approximately 1,400-square-foot home in the Fry Township.

“Personally, as the instructor, I feel like it was a success.”

The program offers flexibility for students.

It’s considered a “stackable credential” said Rod Flanigan, Dean of Business and Technology.

“If they go through the program they come out of this with a certificate and they can use that certificate to continue on another year to earn an associate’s degree,” Flanigan said. “The goal is different for each student, we don’t determine their goals we provide an opportunity for them to obtain a skill set.”

“They may decide that the certificate is all they need to gain the skill set they need to go work.”

Schlarbaum, who works as a general contractor, said he knows five of the students are already working and there are some who will be pursuing the associate’s degree.

Before students began the physical work, they received about eight weeks of training which included safety, framing and reading blueprints. They also have an electrical contractor, plumbing contractor and a mechanical contractor on board as part of the program.

“The first class is safety which is primary, paramount, the most important thing and after that it’s a fundamentals class where they learn to use all the tools we would need to build the house in that class,” Schlarbaum said.

“Each student got this blueprint, so they understand what I’m teaching them in the classroom — they can apply it in the field.”


The first completed home built by students from the Residential Construction Technology Program at Cochise College. The land the home was built on was donated to the Cochise College Foundation by the city of Sierra Vista.

The blueprint for the 1,394 square-foot single-family home was donated by developer Castle & Cooke, which also donated paint and fixtures.

Flanigan said that community involvement was a big part of why this project was able to be completed.

“For me the amazing part of this whole project is everybody who came together — it was really a group project all the way from the city and county to the governing board of Cochise College, to the president of the college, SACA (Southeastern Arizona Contractors Association), volunteers, administration, everybody,” he said.

“Everybody bought into this thing and really made it a success — it’s hard to pull something like this off.”

The City of Sierra Vista donated the actual land to the Cochise College Foundation and since the area is in a county enclave, Cochise County assisted.

The property was handled by Beth Hughes of Sierra Vista Realty and was on the market for $140,000.

Moving forward, the RCT program will build a mirror image of the home on the lot right next door, part of the lot donated by the City of Sierra Vista.

“It’s kind of been an education process for us too,” Schlarbaum said. “As far as the 90 percent, we want them to be 100 percent, so that’s one goal for next year is (for the students) to completely finish the house.”

With the first home acting as a pilot project for the program, there were several major lessons taken away to make the program even better.

“I think one of the important lessons learned along the way is students make mistakes — and it’s OK,” Flanigan said. “We provide a safe environment for a student to make a mistake — you go out into the real world and make a mistake and it’s not so safe.”

“That’s an important lesson to learn and it has caused us to understand that we need to allow more time, more materials.”

So far, they already have eight people registered for next semester, which starts August 19. The class will be capped at 12-15 students.

Schlarbaum made a point of encouraging women to consider the program and had one female student successfully obtain her certificate among the first group of graduates.

The hands-on learning setting provided by the program allows students to really discover if this is a career they could see themselves in.

“Experiential learning is a big thing in higher education today and this project is the very definition of experiential learning,” Flanigan said. “It’s a learning continuum where a student can learn if this is not what he or she wants.”

“That’s what it’s all about. We want students to get to a better place.”