BISBEE — After some discussion, the Cochise County Board of Supervisors approved a new memorandum of understanding between Cochise County, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Sierra Vista and Fort Huachuca regarding the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area and the bureau’s resource management plan.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisor Tom Crosby said the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area “doesn’t and shouldn’t exist.”
Last Friday, Crosby brought up his concerns in a work session and said, “The recent proposed MOU between the fort, the county, Sierra Vista and BLM is full of justifications for various actions based on the presumptive existence of the SPRNCA. Congress further violates the doctrine of separation of powers by assigning the presumptive unlimited power to the executive branch.”
Tuesday, he said the BLM should “prove it has jurisdiction” over the SPRNCA. He also called the MOU “a ruse.”
According to County Administrator Richard Karwaczka, the MOU gives the county a seat at the table whereby it will be able to comment and work with the Bureau of Land Management in its efforts to implement monitoring and management actions necessary to “ensure the mutually shared goals of an ecologically viable San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, an operationally secure Fort Huachuca, and the economic prosperity of the city of Sierra Vista and Cochise County.”
The county’s strategic plan includes promoting environmental solutions, which include partnerships for wildlife management in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and support of Fort Huachuca environmental efforts and increased intergovernmental cooperation.
The county’s Comprehensive Plan has as a goal specific to SPRNCA: “Coordinate efforts with other organizations and jurisdictions, including the Bureau of Land Management, to protect the SPRNCA, as well as the economic and social well–being of Cochise County residents, by assisting Fort Huachuca in meeting its environmental goals, especially regarding water conservation.”
Mark Apel, county environmental projects coordinator, explained the collaborative agreement which “pulls things together” with a “step-by-step process” to protect the SPRNCA.
The MOU is designed to achieve “a series of shared goals to ensure a healthy San Pedro River and ecologically viable SPRNCA, adequate long–term water supplies to meet the reasonable needs of the area’s current and future residents and property owners as well as the SPRNCA, opportunities for continued economic growth and development in Cochise County and Sierra Vista; and an operationally secure Fort Huachuca that can accomplish its national defense missions, have a safe and adequate water supply and comply with all obligations under the Endangered Species Act.”
Apel noted, “We have all put a lot of time in this agreement over the past year. This sets up a step-by-step process to protect the river. Cochise County, the city of Sierra Vista, the Bureau of Land Management and Fort Huachuca have been engaged in discussions over the past year about how to work together more effectively on issues related to the conservation of the San Pedro River and implementation of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area Resource Management Plan.”
It establishes cooperative monitoring and management of the SPRNCA so that decision can be backed up by scientific input, he added.
In 2006, a study was done that specified 14 distinct reaches of the San Pedro River, said Apel. A reach is a section within a stream or river where similar hydrologic conditions exist, such as discharge, depth, area and slope. The term is often used by hydrologists when they’re referring to a small section of a stream or river rather than its entire length.
To clarify further, Apel stated in an email, “To provide an initial framework for this evaluation, the USGS has recommended the riparian health condition classes defined by the 2006 study for the SPRNCA as an effective and relatively comprehensive metric to use for evaluating hydrologic integrity and associated ecosystem health that can be spatially and temporally specific, and from which relevant trends in riparian health conditions can be measured or inferred.
“SPRNCA has been categorized in previous studies into three riparian health classes — Classes 1, 2, and 3 — which were further segregated into 14 reaches within the SPRNCA. The delineation of these reaches was based on their respective geomorphic, hydrologic and biological characteristics, and these same 14 delineated reaches are being adopted by the SPRNCA Cooperative Plan for monitoring, evaluation, and planning purposes.
It is important to note that the parties are not adopting the wet, intermediate or dry designations developed in 2006 as the metric for evaluating or triggering actions under this plan, but rather intend to evaluate the projected trend in riparian condition class within each SPRNCA reach in comparison to current conditions. Similarly, the specific conditions of the SPRNCA reaches that were observed in the study are not being adopted by the parties as a baseline, since the management actions being undertaken in the MOU are designed to influence an inherently dynamic and complex hydrological and ecological system that is continuing to change in response to historic and current groundwater withdrawals, riparian vegetation needs, variability in recharge rates, changing climate, and other factors.
The plan is to revisit those 14 reaches and set a foundation to work from in the coming years. Every 10 years the study will be done again to have a running record of the river’s flow.
“This agreement puts us back on track and will formally recognize the projects of the Cochise Conservation and Recharge Network and the Upper San Pedro Partnership,” he said. “The MOU does not put the county at risk and it gives us a seat at the table.”
Supervisor Peggy Judd said she researched the MOU and thinks the parties have been “successful” in water management.
“I believe the SPRNCA is a valid designation by Congress. We can’t turn our backs on it. I feel strongly the county benefits from the MOU. This is good for our communities and my constituents do not object to it,” Judd said.
Supervisor Ann English said, “We haven’t had a seat at the table when decisions were made. This is a great success to be included on the issues of the resource management plan. People are willing to discuss the problems and then move forward. The MOU is a statement that we will sit and listen.”
English and Judd voted in favor of the MOU. Crosby voted against it.
In other issues, the agreement the county made a year ago with Santa Cruz County to house four juvenile detainees was terminated and now juveniles will have to be sent to Pinal County.
The supervisors approved a new intergovernmental agreement with Pinal County to provide primary juvenile detention services with 10 beds guaranteed. The current charge for 2021 is $300 per juvenile per day. In 2022 the charge will increase to $347 per juvenile per day.