COCHISE COUNTY WATER ASSESSMENT AND STRATEGY FOR THE SIERRA VISTA SUB-WATERSHED OF THE UPPER SAN PEDRO RIVER
September 09, 2003
This assessment and strategy states the position of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors regarding the County’s approach to water issues in the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed of the San Pedro River. This document will offer citizens of Cochise County a better understanding of water conditions in the sub-watershed and will facilitate cooperative planning among individuals, businesses and governments. This document will also form the basis of public and inter-governmental discourse on the topic of water in the sub-watershed.
This assessment and strategy is applicable to the Sierra Vista Sub-Watershed of the Upper San Pedro River. In order to avoid artificial settlement patterns and tensions between jurisdictions, the Board of Supervisors intends to pursue consistency of application of policy across jurisdictional boundaries within the sub-watershed. Cochise County anticipates a substantial amount of joint planning through inter-governmental agreements between it and the incorporated areas within the sub-watershed. However, nothing in this document is intended to apply directly to or within the jurisdiction of incorporated areas within Cochise County.
Certain of the actions envisioned in this plan may require legislative action at the State level, call for local elections or be subject to the normal public hearing process prior to their implementation or enactment. Nothing in this document is intended to supersede the ordinary process for the enactment of policies, ordinances or laws, neither in the County nor in any incorporated jurisdiction within the County.
According to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, “Long-term planning to deal with explosive growth in the West involves better management and conservation, not new storage projects. There are so many other possibilities in between, so instead of getting hung up on that polarized debate, there are certainly a lot of opportunities for conservation. Real solutions will come from people who will have to live with or without water. Working together we can make a difference for the future of the West."
The Secretary’s comments suggest that cooperative local efforts to conserve, reuse or augment our water supply will be a more likely solution to local water issues than grand scale publicly-funded engineering projects.
The debate on the “water issue” in the Sierra Vista Sub-basin of the Upper San Pedro Watershed, like other areas of Arizona with water issues, has been a contentious one. Several organized attempts to analyze and make recommendations have been met with varying public reaction from outright hostility to any limitations on human behavior to protests that not enough was being done to conserve water or to protect the San Pedro River. Much anecdotal evidence has been exchanged and hydrologists have dueled over the history of the river and the impact of human pumping from the aquifer. Numerous groups have been formed to deal with the issue, some of which still exist. Organizations from outside the sub-basin have taken an active role, sometimes in federal court, to influence how we behave with respect to the river. More recently, the Upper San Pedro Partnership (USPP) has taken the local lead in addressing the needs of the San Pedro National Riparian Conservation Area (SPRNCA) and the needs of humans residing here. Whatever one’s past or current position, we have reached the point in our local history where our largest employer, with overwhelming local economic impact, Fort Huachuca, and another federal agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have reached a programmatic opinion under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act which is based on a finding that pumping from the aquifer has had the effect of creating a deficit in our local aquifer with a potential negative impact on the San Pedro River unless the deficit pumping is mitigated. This conclusion has also been ratified by a federal court and further represents the opinion of the membership of the Upper San Pedro Partnership.
While science continues to be applied to help us fully understand the magnitude of the deficit and judge its impact, the Board believes we now have a public consensus that we need to pump less water from the aquifer, use and reuse what we take out responsibly, and recharge or augment our supply as necessary to preserve the surface flow in the San Pedro River, accommodate reasonable economic growth, avoid jeopardy to the fort’s continued operation and protect against drought. Aside from rain water and some effluent, the underground aquifer currently represents the sole source of water for humans and the riparian area upon which so many other species depend. To argue that science will eventually prove that sole source to be somehow inexhaustible or unaffected by human activity is to place at risk our economic well-being as well as the water supply of future generations.
The deficit does not manifest itself equally throughout the sub-watershed. In areas of significant pumping a cone of depression has developed which has the potential with continued pumping to increase in size and depth to the point where it might affect the river. Even though individual well levels outside the major cone of depression may not appear to be affected, water withdrawn up gradient from the river may have eventually reached the river and contributed to surface flow had it not been intercepted. Ground water is the primary source supplying surface flow in the river, thus any withdrawal within the sub-basin potentially has an eventual impact on the amount of groundwater available to sustain the river.
Secretary Norton’s comments suggest that we will not be able to rely on federal funding of massive water importation schemes, at least until after we have tried all available local means, especially conservation, to assure our future water supply.
In 1988, the U.S. Congress established the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area within Cochise County several miles east of the city limits of Sierra Vista. It falls to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to care for the riparian area. The San Pedro River provides necessary habitat to hundreds of species of birds, animals and plants, several of which are listed as “endangered” under federal law. The San Pedro River flows south to north and is a bi-national river, originating in Mexico. The San Pedro is also the only dam-free waterway in Arizona which has water flowing in parts of it year round. This perennial surface flow is produced by geologic and hydrologic characteristics which cause groundwater to reach the surface in the streambed. These characteristics make the riparian area a locally treasured asset and bring the San Pedro a great deal of national and international attention. Estimates of the local economic impact of eco-tourism related to the San Pedro range as high as $28 million annually and are increasing. In 1996, the American Bird Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management highlighted the SPRNCA as a “Globally Important Bird Area.” The Upper San Pedro River was included on the American Rivers “Most Endangered Rivers” list in 1999. The San Pedro is also listed by The Nature Conservancy as “One of the Last Great Places.” Because of its ecological importance, many conservation organizations have made preservation of the surface flow of water in the San Pedro an important part of their mission.
Fort Huachuca, a federal reservation operated by the U.S. Army occupies the western portion of Sierra Vista. Fort Huachuca is the dominant economic activity in the Cochise County, injecting approximately $600,000,000 annually into the Southeast Arizona economy. As a federal activity, Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) precludes any activity on the part of Fort Huachuca which might have a negative impact on the habitat of any endangered species. This includes activities which might have a negative impact on the surface flow of water in the riparian area to the east. The ESA applies differently to individuals, local governments and businesses than it does to federal activities like Fort Huachuca. The former might be found guilty of a crime, after the fact, if it is proven they directly harmed a species. The standard for the fort is tougher. The fort’s future activities are tested against the possibility they might negatively affect the environment or habitat of an endangered species, thereby indirectly risking harm to the species. Actual or proposed actions of a federal activity are more readily contested in court by organizations and individuals than are those of non-federal activities.
In 2002, Fort Huachuca and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), concluded in a formal Biological Opinion (BO) that the future activities of the fort, as now envisioned, would not pose a significant threat to the habitat of any endangered species provided its conservation activities continue and are successful. A principle component of the BO centered on the issue of Army groundwater pumping and its potential effect on the surface flow of water in the San Pedro River. The Army in this BO is assigned responsibility for groundwater pumping on the part of the local population outside the boundaries of the fort whose presence is considered attendant to the activities on the fort. Thus, groundwater pumping by dependents, retirees, government contractor employees and their families and even some businesses whose presence would be unlikely were the fort not in operation, is now accepted to be the responsibility of the fort to offset or mitigate. The fort has committed to do its part. However, the fort’s ability to influence the activities of civilian enterprises, individuals and governments outside the jurisdiction of the military reservation is limited. Even when the fort is fully successful with mitigating all the water use on post, a substantial deficit will remain. Additionally, new water use caused by growth outside the reservation boundaries not related to Fort Huachuca presents additional challenges in eliminating overall deficit pumping in the sub-watershed. To meet the objective of completely mitigating the overall water deficit the cooperation of local communities, individuals, businesses and governments is required. If a deficit is allowed to remain, and the fort is pumping any water at all, they could still be seen to be contributing to the deficit even though all of the water use attributable to the fort itself has been mitigated.
[Note: More than one federal legislative attempt has been made to exempt the military from responsibility for compliance with environmental law outside the military reservation. Should one of these efforts prove successful, the Board of Supervisors remains concerned that such an exemption might later be overturned in court or through subsequent legislation. This document approaches the water issue in the sub-watershed from the point of view that preservation of the surface flow of water in the San Pedro River will always be a legal and moral imperative irrespective of Fort Huachuca issues.]
Fort Huachuca is a responsible environmental steward and a good neighbor. Open space and outdoor recreational opportunities abound within the boundaries of the installation. Should the installation close under current base realignment and closure (BRAC) actions, the economic implications, while staggering and long term, would likely eventually be overcome as people migrate here for reasons that are not military related. Alternative uses for the land occupied by the fort might be less environmentally friendly than the Army, making the entire area eventually less attractive and potentially less considerate of the San Pedro River. Fort Huachuca has committed to a zero balance or better as regards its direct water use and has taken responsibility for mitigation of a substantial amount of water use outside the reservation. Fort Huachuca has a remarkable and nationally award winning environmental record especially as pertains to water conservation. Further, Fort Huachuca is a funding partner of the Upper San Pedro Partnership and is key to the development of an overall solution to achieving a water balance in the aquifer.
Growth not directly attributable to Fort Huachuca also contributes to the jeopardy to surface flow in the San Pedro River and may add to the risk of termination or reduction of activities on the Fort. Some organizations with a conservation interest in the San Pedro River have focused on closing Fort Huachuca or limiting its activities as a way to limit growth and reduce overall local demand for groundwater and thereby delaying the potential lowering of the water level in the aquifer to the point where surface flow in the San Pedro might be affected. Even should the fort be completely successful in mitigating all of their direct water use, the fact that it will continue to pump some water, in the view of some, means they will continue to contribute to the threat to the river and continue to be subject to challenge and litigation.
As has happened several times before, the United States Department of Defense (DOD) is embarking on a round of base realignments and closures (BRAC) designed to reduce its infrastructure by 25%. During this process, military activities presently using bases and infrastructure identified for closure will be moved to installations which are able to absorb new missions. The ability for existing installations to accept new missions is therefore a key consideration in whether or not they will be looked at for expansion, realignment or closure. In addition to purely mission considerations, quality of life issues are a critical factor in determining whether an installation is considered for expansion, realignment or closure. Medical facilities, housing, educational opportunities, job availability for military family members and other amenities are all being scrutinized for ability to support expanded missions. Cochise County and Fort Huachuca are quite well situated to demonstrate an ability to plan for and handle potential mission expansion. However, we must be able to show that future growth, including that attributable to expanded operations on the fort can be accommodated without jeopardy to the surface flow of water in the San Pedro River.
The Cochise County Board of Supervisors believes it to be in the best interests of residents within the sub-watershed that we demonstrate the ability to responsibly manage and accommodate future growth within the sub-watershed, whether caused by Fort Huachuca activities or not, while protecting the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, and assuring a long term quality water supply.
The needs of Fort Huachuca and BRAC considerations add immediacy to the requirement to act to reduce the amount of water withdrawn from the aquifer, reuse or recharge the maximum amount of water possible, or to augment water supplies by other means. The long term availability of adequate water of suitable quality is crucial to any society but especially to desert residents. Conservation is generally a positive societal goal while waste of any resource is generally contrary to the interests of society. In an area such as ours, where annual rainfall is normally low (approx. average of 14 inches annually) and, as is currently the situation, reduced further by drought, storage of adequate water for the future is prudent. In the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed our challenge is greater because we are an attractive, growing region to which people wish to move while at the same time the people of the United States have decided to protect the San Pedro River. While the supply of water in the aquifer may appear nearly limitless when assessing it against individual requirements, as a society we must be concerned with the cumulative uses of ground water and the effect these uses have on the level of water at the surface near the river and our long-term water supply.
Water use by an increasing population in the sub-watershed, whether related to Fort Huachuca or otherwise, is not the only stressor of our local water supply. Those living downstream to the north of the sub-watershed have a legitimate interest in the water moving through the watershed. This is especially true of the Gila Reservation Indian Community (GRIC) which is pursuing water rights in court and is the subject of pending federal legislation to adjudicate their demands on the available supply of water from the Gila River and its tributaries including the San Pedro. This adjudication of water rights has been going on for decades. The effect of the final outcome of the GRIC adjudication is indeterminate with regard to what effect it may have on water in the Sierra Vista sub-watershed.
Normal evaporation and the use of water by plants and animals also reduce the amount of water reaching the aquifer as does below normal precipitation or drought. Residents in the sub-watershed have little ability to influence natural stresses on water levels in the underground aquifer or surface flow in the San Pedro River. Residents of the sub-watershed can only influence the amount of water pumped from and returned or recharged into the aquifer by human activity.
It is tempting to look at the water balance in the aquifer as a “Sierra Vista Issue.” It is important to note again that the local fiscal impact of Fort Huachuca alone is in excess of half of a billion dollars annually. The Fort Huachuca/Sierra Vista economy provides jobs to residents of surrounding communities and the unincorporated areas of the County. Sierra Vista also provides substantial medical, educational, cultural and retail services to residents of the entire watershed and beyond. The rural and small town lifestyles enjoyed by so many in the sub-watershed are largely made possible and more safe and comfortable by having a somewhat metropolitan area close at hand. Census data actually show that the growth rate in the rural areas outside of Sierra Vista is greater than that within the city.
The Board of Supervisors considers the continued viability of Fort Huachuca as beneficial to the health, welfare, and safety of the residents of the entire county. Further the Board sees water within the Sierra Vista sub-watershed as a shared resource. Responsibility for water conservation, reuse or recharge or its augmentation from other sources (i.e. rain water) is a shared responsibility throughout the sub-watershed within the limitations of Arizona State law.
The Board of Supervisors does not favor extremist arguments which suggest that any human activity in the sub-watershed is somehow other than natural, nor arguments that unbridled growth should be pursued without regard for the environment or consideration of the natural qualities which have made this area attractive to so many.
A region such as the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed naturally develops and grows. At a past point in time, when but a single service station or only one grocery store served the area, growth was near universally desired and feverishly encouraged. At a point sometime well in the future we could find ourselves debating the question of allowing taller buildings to maximize density on a dwindling supply of private land. As development proceeds it is right that a community constantly assess its desires for the type and amount of additional growth. It is a difficult challenge for political leaders to assess the desires of the community while protecting the rights of property owners and the needs of the environment. The task is near impossible without the dialog between constituents and political leaders that this document encourages.
It is difficult to ask people to focus on a point in time 20 or 50 years hence. Yet, we must attempt to do so as decisions and actions taken today will in some measure be irreversible in the future. There are natural limits on growth. In this document we are focusing on the availability of sufficient water to sustain future human activity while preserving the San Pedro River. We must also recognize that there is a limited amount of land available to develop in the sub-watershed as well, and that everything we do has an impact on the quality of our lives and those arriving after us. We are, despite our rich history, a relatively young region in terms of development. Cochise County has the highest percentage of private to public land in the State and much of it is undeveloped. We are uniquely presented with an opportunity to consciously determine how we develop and to fashion reasonable local solutions to our water issues without allowing ourselves to be overtaken by events.
The Cochise County Board of Supervisors recognizes that a cumulative ground water deficit situation has existed and continues to exist, according to the best currently available science, due to the withdrawal of water from the aquifer underlying the Sierra Vista sub-watershed of the San Pedro River at a rate greater than water is being added to the aquifer from whatever source(s).
The Board of Supervisors recognizes that prudent local environmental policy and practices, as well as the laws and policies of the United States, specifically the National Environmental policy Act, the Endangered Species Act; Biological Opinion: Fort Huachuca, US Fish and Wildlife Service (2002) and the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area Enabling Act of 1988, place a special responsibility on residents, institutions and governments within the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed to conform their actions and activities, now and in the future, in a way which contributes to the conservation of the San Pedro National Riparian Conservation Area, specifically the impact of human activity on the surface flow of water in the San Pedro river.
The Board of Supervisors recognizes the contributions of Fort Huachuca to the quality of our local natural environment, especially the San Pedro River; its important role in the defense of the United States and its substantial economic impact in southeast Arizona. The Board of Supervisors supports the continued and if necessary, expanded operations of Fort Huachuca.
Diversification of the economy in the sub-watershed may at some point dilute the economic impact of Fort Huachuca on Cochise County. At no foreseeable point in the future however, does the Board of Supervisors see that the loss of this economic engine would be anything less than devastating to the economic well being of the residents of all of Cochise County.
The Board of Supervisors anticipates that growth will continue in the sub-watershed. Causes of growth, apart from the activities directly associated with Fort Huachuca, include climate, scenery, culture, history, cost of living, the existence of the amenities associated with the City of Sierra Vista itself, and the free will of individuals who chose to make the sub-watershed their home.
The Board of Supervisors finds it in the public interest of the citizens of Cochise County to protect the surface flow of water in the San Pedro River from the effects of human activity. The Board of Supervisors believes future growth and development in the sub-watershed inclusive of that related to Fort Huachuca must be sustainable, responsible growth when measured in terms of the effect on surface flow in the San Pedro.
The Board of Supervisors believes that responsibility for the mitigation of the impact of growth; Fort Huachuca related or otherwise, on the deficit in the aquifer must be shared by individual residents, local businesses, organizations and governments throughout the sub-watershed.
The Board of Supervisors assumes that Fort Huachuca, local residents, businesses, local institutions and governments of Cochise County, particularly those in the Sierra Vista sub-watershed of the San Pedro River, wish to do their part to assure adequate future water supply in the aquifer underlying the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed, allow for responsibly managed growth, preserve the unique characteristics of the SPRNCA and support the continued operation of Fort Huachuca.
Irrespective of the cause – reduced pumping through conservation, reuse of water and local augmentation of water supplies is simply the right thing to do.
Founding Member of the Upper San Pedro Partnership
Many of the County actions to deal with the water deficit have been implemented through being a founding member and funding partner in the Upper San Pedro Partnership (USPP or Partnership.) The Partnership offers the County a way to magnify its efforts at water conservation, recharge and augmentation and pool its talents and resources with others in a locally directed and coordinated effort to cooperatively deal with water issues throughout the sub-watershed.
The USPP is a consortium of federal, State and local governments and agencies, non-government conservation organizations, a developer and a water company. In total, 20 different “stakeholders” with widely varying views on resolving local water issues work together under a 5-year financial plan totaling $33.9 million to find ways to satisfy the water needs of humans and the SPRNCA. Below is a complete list of partnership members.
• Local: Cochise County, Sierra Vista, Bisbee, Tombstone, Hereford NRCD, Huachuca City
• State: State Land Dept., AZ Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), AZ Department of Water Resources (ADWR), Assoc. of Conservation Districts
• Federal: Ft. Huachuca, U.S. National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service
• Other: The Nature Conservancy, National Audubon, Bella Vista Ranches/Bella Vista Water Co.
Much of the funding and support for the operation of the Upper San Pedro Partnership is provided by the federal government and is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) through the efforts of Congressman Jim Kolbe and his staff.
Cochise County has contributed over $1.1 million to the Partnership over the last 4 years to help fund surface water studies, install and monitor stream gauges and aquifer recharge studies. All three County Supervisors serve on the Partnership Advisory Committee (PAC) which leads the Partnership and is the point where science and public policy come together. Fully one-half of the time of a senior county planner is dedicated to USPP activities related to water. The County Administrator is the chair person of the Staff Working Group (SWG) of the Partnership. This is the action arm of the Partnership where technical guidance and political direction from the PAC are merged into concrete plans and actions. The County Administrator also serves as a member of the Admin Committee which manages the USPP financial plan and supervises contracts. The County is also represented on the Technical Committee of the Partnership by the Director of the Highway and Floodplain Department and a civil engineer and hydrologist. Finally, the County Public Information Officer serves on the Outreach Committee of the Partnership. The committees, including the PAC, each meet at least once monthly.
In addition to the time and efforts of county elected officials, the administrator and senior staff, Cochise County’s overall contribution to the Partnership financial plan amounts to more than $365,000 for the 2003-2004 budget year. Cochise County also anticipates administering more than $100,000 in grant funded projects during this period.
The Board of Supervisors sees the Partnership as the best way to achieve valid science to quantify the water balance in the aquifer and to conceive of, implement and validate the broadest range of solutions. The Partnership is the best way to insure the viewpoints of multiple constituencies are heard and acted on. The Board expects the Partnership to provide the political consensus and scientific leadership as it now moves into the implementation phase with the publication of its first USPP Working Water Conservation Plan. Membership in the Partnership insures that county efforts do not overlap or needlessly duplicate others and offers an organized regional, but still local, basis to secure funding to produce accurate science, and develop water conservation, reuse or augmentation strategies within the sub-watershed.
The Upper San Pedro Partnership is not a “water authority.” The Partnership cannot impose policies or solutions on its individual members. Each of the member organizations has its own interests apart from the Partnership. Each member strives to ensure that its own interests are considered as the Partnership works to develop recommended solutions to satisfy human and environmental needs within the sub-basin.
The Partnership is simultaneously challenged to define the groundwater model for the sub-watershed and at the same time work to improve the water balance in the aquifer. The history of dealing with the water issue in the sub-watershed is one rich with anecdotal evidence, dueling hydrologists, fiercely competitive interests, and use of the water question to advance differing political, environmental and economic interests under the guise of dealing with the water issue. The Partnership, including the County, realizes that there are significant data gaps in our understanding of the water balance and is pursuing the best available science to answer questions about the amount of water, how it moves, what the river needs, how human activity impacts and how water is replenished in the aquifer. This same science is being applied to proposed solutions as well.
Ideally, we would wish for an exact defined numerical definition of the problem and a similarly well defined numerical solution. As science is applied to the problem, we may come closer to such an ideal, yet are unlikely ever to achieve it. Geology and hydrology are most difficult disciplines when the object of the research is virtually all hidden underground. A precise definition of the problem is a difficult challenge when conditions like weather and changes in human activity are so variable. The Board of Supervisors intends that Cochise County will continue its involvement with and support of the Partnership and implement appropriate water mitigation actions within its sphere of influence.
Cochise County is represented on the Governor’s State Growing Smarter Oversight Council by the District 1 (Sierra Vista Area) County Supervisor. The Growing Smarter legislation provides the framework within which all comprehensive planning is done within the State at the County and municipal level. Growing Smarter requires or encourages specific elements in all plans for growth, conservation and natural resources among others. The oversight council monitors the implementation of this legislation and acts as an information conduit between local governments and the executive branch of State government. Cochise County’s representative serves on the legislative subcommittee of the council. In this capacity, Cochise County is responsible for monitoring and reporting to the council on legislative activities concerning water and insuring that rural water interests and issues are made known to both the Governor’s Council and the State legislature.
Cochise County is a funding sponsor of the Water Wise Program. Water Wise is an educational outreach effort administered by the Agricultural Extension Service of the University of Arizona. In additional to valuable educational seminars and work within schools in the sub-watershed educating students on water issues; Water Wise performs individual water audits of businesses and homes. These voluntary water audits offer instruction on ways to conserve water inside the home or business as well as giving expert advice on proper low water use landscaping techniques for desert living. Water Wise also develops and distributes literature and other materials with a water conservation theme and frequently attends public events throughout the sub-watershed to carry the Water Wise message. Water Wise operates the Plant Sciences Center at the University of Arizona South campus to salvage native plants, nurture them and provide for their reuse. The Water Wise staff also participates in and makes valuable contributions to water conservation efforts of various groups and associations throughout the sub-watershed including the Water Initiative Committee of the Sierra Vista Area Chamber of Commerce and the Outreach Committee of the USPP. Cochise County will continue to support this valuable program and is seeking to increase its level of support pending availability of additional funds. Accurate measurement of water savings attributable to Water Wise activities and greater visibility of the Water Wise program in the unincorporated areas and smaller cities in the sub-watershed will be a County goal for Water Wise. The County seeks to increase the level of sponsorship of this program.
The Board of Supervisors in 2002 recognized that a regional or sub-watershed approach would be necessary to deal with planning issues relating to water. There is a need for consistency in policy on land use, flood control, transportation and other matters which cross jurisdictional boundaries between cities and unincorporated areas within the sub-watershed. This is certainly true when it comes to plans and policies necessary to protect our water supply, preserve the San Pedro Riparian Area, support Fort Huachuca and accommodate population growth in the sub-watershed. In 2002 Cochise County entered into Inter-Governmental Agreements (IGA) with the cities of Tombstone, Huachuca City, Bisbee and Sierra Vista under the authority of ARS § 9-461.11E and ARS § 11-951, et seq. for the purpose of developing a joint development plan within the unincorporated areas of the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed. Each of the IGA’s state that both the cities and the County share a mutual interest in exercising responsible stewardship over the natural resources located within or adjacent to their respective jurisdictions, especially the common water resources of the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed of the San Pedro River. To that end, this joint development plan will address water issues and proposed actions and implementation of water conservation, reuse and augmentation measures in the unincorporated areas of the sub-watershed.
Through the use of the joint planning process, the Board of Supervisors intends to achieve a consistency of application of water management policies and programs across jurisdictional boundaries and avoid disparate treatment of county residents and artificial settlement patterns across jurisdictional boundaries motivated by differences in policies or costs of conservation, recharge and augmentation of water supplies. At the same time, joint planning should enable individual local governments and the County to accommodate the many differences between incorporated and unincorporated area lifestyles and differing availability of infrastructure such as sewers, septic water company service and private wells.
Preparation of the initial water conservation element of the joint development plan is complete and has been adopted by the four incorporated areas and the County Board of Supervisors.
At the inception of the Joint Planning IGA, the County undertook a review of its overall approach to water conservation and determined that a full-time Water Conservation Coordinator was necessary in the Board of Supervisors Office. That office has been created and staffed with one full-time employee. The office is located at 1415 Melody Lane, Bldg B, and Bisbee, AZ 85603 and can be reached by phone at (520) 432-9211 and by email at email@example.com. The scope of duties of the WCO is evolutionary, but the primary function of the WCO is to coordinate internally and externally all County involvement with water issues. Initial focus is on the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed of the San Pedro River. The Board of Supervisors and the County Administrator rely on the WCO to research water conservation strategies used elsewhere which might be applicable to this sub-watershed and recommend or implement appropriate conservation programs here.
The WCO attends most meetings of the Upper San Pedro Partnership and its various committees and coordinates and assists County representatives in the performance of their committee responsibilities to the Partnership.
The WCO researches and identifies sources of funding for water conservation activities and pursues such funding on behalf of the Board of Supervisors.
The WCO monitors the activities of the federal and State legislature and various State and federal agencies and quasi-governmental or non-governmental organizations on water matters in order to appropriately advise the County Administrator and Board of Supervisors of water related issues which might affect the County.
The WCO acts as a resource for and coordinates with local governments and organizations within the sub-watershed to assist with programs, planning and other matters where County resources might prove helpful to local water conservation efforts.
The WCO participates in the County planning process to coordinate County plans, regulations and policies on water conservation, reuse, recharge and augmentation.
Below is a partial list of water related activities, actions and agencies with which the County is involved, which led to the determination of need for a full-time Water Conservation Office:
Gila River Indian Settlement
AZ Dept. of Water Resources
Water Rights Adjudication
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Navigable Streams Adjudication
20 USPP Member Organizations
Active Management Area Study
4 Incorporated Cities Under IGA
Various Third Party Lawsuits
Multiple County Departments
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
DOD Base Realignment and
Environmental Species Act (ESA)
Governor’s Drought Task Force
Identify Funding Sources
County Conservation Programs
AZ Dept. of Environmental Quality (ADEQ)
Web Page/Mailing Lists
The WCO also serves on the recently created Statewide Conservation Strategy Workgroup, a part of the Governor’s Drought Task Force.
The County Water Conservation Office does not dispense private advice regarding the availability or adequacy of the water supply on specific parcels or for specific developments, the value of or adjudication of water rights, or the commercial viability of any commercial project based on water supply.
The County has funded and is preparing a water conservation program in which owners of restaurants and lodging establishments will be invited to participate at no cost to the business. There is a three-fold purpose behind the program:
- Actual and measurable water savings throughout the watershed.
- Education of employees and customers on water conservation.
- Inform visitors that we are indeed serious about conservation of water.
Features of the program will include:
- Serving of water only on request.
- Changing of bed linen every third day.
- Changing of bath linen only on request.
- Voluntary water audits of the property.
- Consideration of water conservation in future appliance purchases.
- Involvement of customers and employees in water conservation.
- Brochure for customers and employees explaining the program.
Tent cards, signs, brochures and information on water conservation measures peculiar to the hospitality industry have been funded and produced and will be supplied by the County at no charge to the individual business. This program will be launched in 2003.
The County has funded and will offer rebates for the replacement of older, high water use toilets (pre-1993) with new 1.6 gallon per flush devices. This program may eventually be extended county-wide. Initially however, due to the economic importance of Fort Huachuca to the well being of the residents of the entire county, and the requirement to demonstrate that fort related activity has no detrimental effect on the San Pedro River, initial rebates will only be available to addresses within the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed. This program will be modeled after the successful Sierra Vista City effort and will emphasize replacement of toilets in the unincorporated areas of the County within the sub-watershed and within the cities of Tombstone, Huachuca City and Bisbee. The City of Sierra Vista funds and operates a separate toilet rebate program for residents of Sierra Vista. Application procedures and the verification process will be established and the program begun in 2003. The County expects to issues rebates for the replacement of about 500 toilets in 2003 and expects to continue the program in subsequent years.
Cochise County is currently in the permitting process for a 10 acre detention basin in the Palominas area. The primary purpose of the basin is flood control; however a measurable contribution to recharge of the aquifer should also result. It is anticipated that this basin serve multiple purposes as current plans also call for its use as a park or open space in the Palominas neighborhood. The Board of Supervisors will explore additional opportunities to combine flood control operations with aquifer recharge or infiltration.
The Board of Supervisors has amended the Cochise County Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Regulations in recent years to incorporate water conservation provisions in non-residential construction which are applicable County-wide:
Amended the Comprehensive Plan to include a conservation goal and policies that address water and its role in sustainable growth for the future;
Amended the Zoning Regulations for new golf course development and additions to existing golf courses to conserve water;
Amended the Zoning Regulations with new water conserving site development standards to be applied County-wide to non-residential development, including drought-tolerant landscaping, waterless urinals and pool covers; specifically:
For all projects which require urinals pursuant to Arizona State Plumbing Code (currently Appendix C of the 1994 Uniform Plumbing Code), or County Health Department standards, the required urinals shall be waterless urinals. This regulation is applicable to new construction. Single and multiple family dwellings are exempted.
For all non-residential projects either requiring landscaping pursuant to Article 1806 or upon which landscaping is not required, but is proposed, the landscaping shall be composed of drought tolerant plants and materials.
New pools will be required to have a cover. The permit application shall note the type of pool cover proposed, and the permit shall be conditioned that the pool shall be covered when not in use.
Adopted a requirement in the Zoning Regulations to demonstrate other water conservation measures in major developments greater than one acre in the Zoning Regulations; and
Adopted a Land Clearing Ordinance to address and mitigate accelerated run-off, erosion and dust control.
This document does not in itself establish policies or ordinances of the County government. Nor will proposed actions or plans in this document necessarily apply within the incorporated areas of the County. These policies and programs will be introduced into the joint planning processes established with the cities in the sub-watershed and where appropriate, be subject to public hearings or other legislative processes at the local or State level prior to their implementation.
As plans and standards for water conservation are developed, the Board of Supervisors intends that those affected by board decisions will fully participate in the formulation of policies. The Board recognizes that many water conservation alternatives exist and that some “best practices” may not be suitable in all situations. The Board intends to rely on scientists and engineers as well as stakeholders in the pursuit of maximum mitigation of water use.
The Board of Supervisors recognizes and supports individual property rights, the rights of individuals to choose their lifestyle, and the freedom of choice when it comes to design, amenities and features of individual residences and businesses and other land use decisions. In many instances the County water policy will be one of recommending and encouraging specific behaviors which the Board believes will improve the water balance in the aquifer. In other instances, the Board will offer a range of choices among best management practices as factors in favor or factors against approval of specific development plans in the permitting or approval process. The Board may impose mandatory requirements where the Board feels that the health, welfare and safety of the residents of Cochise County are best served by mandatory water conservation, reuse, and recharge or augmentation measures. Finally, some major public projects, such as retention/detention basins, recharge projects or water augmentation efforts may be undertaken by government at taxpayer expense to preserve the riparian conservation area while meeting the water needs of the residents of the sub-watershed.
The Board of Supervisors of Cochise County believes that the water balance in the Sierra Vista sub-watershed should be dealt with by actions in the following order of best practices. The Board is not placing quantity targets on any of these in the belief that it is to the ultimate benefit of residents that the maximum achievable result be the target. Measurable savings may be quantified after implementation of specific measures, thereby avoiding inaccuracies and challenges to projections where so many variables are involved. It should also be noted that the cumulative effect of smaller individual conservation actions, whether or not they are specifically measured, can help to minimize the requirements for major public projects. Actions may be pursued in all three of these areas simultaneously based on available funding and results of the public input and hearing process.
1. Reduce water withdrawals from the aquifer. County policies and programs should first work to keep water withdrawals to the minimum necessary for the beneficial use of water users without waste. Most actual conservation measures fall into this category. The Board believes that the best practices regarding water in this sub-watershed are those which leave the most water in the aquifer in the first place. Using collected rainwater as an alternative to water pumped from the ground for non-drinking uses is an excellent way to reduce withdrawals from the aquifer.
2. Reuse and recharge water which has been withdrawn from the aquifer. Many programs in this category are major projects best left to government and industry. Yet, also falling in this category is individual household or business gray water use or the use of water for more than one purpose before it goes into the sewer or back into the ground.
3. Replenish the aquifer with new sources of water. Rainwater harvesting is a viable source of “new” water which can be exploited by governments, developers and industry as well as individual property owners. Rainwater which is passively directed into the ground through infiltration trenches or pits or larger detention/retention basins can substantially contribute to the water balance in the aquifer. Relocation of major wells or well fields and strategies for the importation of water are also appropriate for consideration under this category.
Some efforts at conservation involve reducing the water use of current residents or businesses and contribute directly and measurably to reducing deficit pumping. Other measures fall into the category of avoidance of future use. Newer homes and businesses are required to have low-flow toilets. Even though they will use less water than the older buildings, they nevertheless do add to the amount of water pumped from the aquifer unless water use is further mitigated by other means. Avoidance of future use is as critical to local water conservation efforts as is reducing current use. Expensive efforts to recharge water into the aquifer and to import water into the sub-basin can be minimized both by reducing current use and the avoidance of future use.
New subdivision regulations, presently out for public comment and expected to be adopted by the end of 2003, propose water conservation measures on those wishing to develop in the unincorporated areas of the County. Similar restrictions will be considered in the Zoning Regulations as site development standards and in the building codes as they are adopted or considered.
For roads, hardscapes, medians, model homes and common areas:
· Restricting of turf to publicly-used common areas, like playgrounds.
· No turf in areas less than 8 feet wide.
· No turf or high water use on slopes exceeding 10%.
· Restricting use of plants to those on the approved County list of low water use or native vegetation.
· Timers required on irrigation systems.
· Rainwater harvesting required.
· Sprinkler heads installed at least 8” away from impermeable surfaces.
· Use of non-porous material (i.e. black plastic) prohibited.
· Require mulch on irrigated non-turf landscaped areas.
For all common use buildings:
· Automatic lavatory faucets limited to dispensing 1 quart of water.
· Cooling systems which require a water source to operate shall not be allowed.
· Outdoor misters prohibited.
· Insulated hot water pipes required.
· Hot water recirculation devices required.
· Pool and spa covers required to prevent evaporation.
· Laundry gray water diversion required.
In 2003, the Board of Supervisors will establish an internal policy requiring a statement of water impact for all actions, programs or projects within the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed affecting County Facilities operations stating either a positive or negative impact on withdrawal of water from the aquifer and where possible require that the impact be quantified. Such statements will be required whenever any change in water use (potable, gray water or wastewater) from any source will result from a proposed project, action or policy change in the operation of county facilities. The water impact statement requirement will be developed and implemented after coordination between the County Facilities Director, the Water Conservation Coordinator and the County Administrator. The Board of Supervisors must be able to track and quantify both increased and decreased demand on the aquifer occasioned by County activities.
During 2004, the Board of Supervisors will act on a requirement for a “water impact checklist” on applications for certain permits, approvals, subdivision plats and site development plans within the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed. This requirement is not intended to prevent or delay approval of any project, but rather to ensure that water use and its mitigation is fully considered in the processing of such actions. Compliance with existing water conservation codes and regulations will be an element of the water impact checklist reviewed during the permitting process. The checklist may also include optional or alternative best management practices developed by the County designed to minimize the negative impact on the water balance in the aquifer. The water impact checklist will further serve to help the County measure the water-related impact of new development and aid it as it evaluates programs to conserve, reuse, recharge or augment water supplies within the sub-watershed. This checklist requirement will apply to residential and commercial projects including manufactured buildings. Implementation of this requirement may be anticipated during the year 2004 as best management practices are developed and published and county regulations forms and procedures are modified to include this requirement.
Gray water harvesting is legal under Arizona law now and is encouraged for use by County residents. Even under the best of circumstances several gallons of water goes down the shower drain for every shower taken, this is a substantial potential source of additional water. Often the location of laundry rooms, even in older construction, is such that gray water diversion is relatively easily accomplished. Water presently going down drains and into septic or sewer systems from bathroom sinks and showers and laundry facilities is considered suitable for use on landscaping and for watering non-edible plants or infiltration into the ground under Arizona law provided all surface gray water is retained on an individual owner’s property. Water from kitchen sinks, dishwashers and toilets are not suitable for use in gray water applications.
The County will consider standards for new construction for the harvesting and optional beneficial use or passive recharge/infiltration of gray water in residential and commercial development. The County has already requested input from the AZ Department of Environmental Quality on this concept. Standards to be developed may include plumbing requirements as well as infiltration mechanisms suitable for the passive collection and infiltration into the ground of such gray water. Optional bypass or diversion mechanisms will be specified so that individual property owners will have the option of storing, passively infiltrating or directly using the gray water generated on their property. Standards and requirements will be developed in 2003/4 for application in new construction by 2005.
Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) is a relatively simple and inexpensive technology which has been in use for thousands of years in some parts of the world. More than 600 gallons of water is collected on each 1000 square feet of impermeable surface during a one-inch rainfall. Impermeable surfaces include roofs, driveways, patios, paved roadways, sidewalks, and paved parking areas. Though some of this water does get into the ground or is consumed by plants, much of it simply runs off of a property and eventually spreads out and evaporates. Detention, retention, and collection basins required on commercial property in some jurisdictions catch or delay some of this water. Generally these are designed to control flooding or collect and slow down run-off to the amount which would naturally have run off the property or developed area before any impermeable surfaces were in place. Some infiltration into the ground or recharge into the aquifer is an additional benefit of these basins.
In a normal year about 14 inches of rainfall can be expected in the Sierra Vista sub-watershed. A 2000 square foot roof collects nearly 17,000 gallons of water in a normal year. That is about the amount of water one person will use at home in over 100 days in Cochise County. Rainwater which lands on an individual’s property is that owner’s to use. Once it leaves the property it is gone. Once it enters a waterway it is subject to State surface water rules, and adjudication of rights to the water as surface water. When considering rooftops, driveways, patios and other impermeable surfaces on an individual property, a tremendous amount of water is involved. Cumulative run off presents flooding dangers and carries with it environmental penalties for the community like erosion, pollution of waterways and accumulation of trash in washes and arroyos. Harvesting the water can help solve these problems and contribute substantially to recharging the aquifer.
The Board of Supervisors believes that capturing rainwater and either using it where it is captured or allowing it to passively infiltrate into the ground without running off has a potential yield sufficient to avoid or at least minimize large-scale and expensive water importation, well relocation or similar capital-intense, taxpayer-funded projects in the future.
Not all rainwater harvested will necessarily recharge the aquifer directly. Some will be used for landscape watering or other uses in lieu of water pumped from the ground. Some will infiltrate the ground and provide water to nearby plants or move laterally and manifest itself as intermittent springs or perhaps help maintain or raise the level of water only in nearby wells. Much of it will continue to be subject to evaporation as the sun heats the soil. Less beneficial impact on the water balance in the aquifer will be felt during periods of below average rainfall or drought. Yet, during years of higher than average rainfall, more water will be stored in the aquifer, smoothing the impact of drought and helping to make up for earlier deficit pumping.
Larger projects, such as government-funded and maintained community detention/retention basins (which are also a form of rainwater harvesting) will continue to be needed and are supported by the Board of Supervisors. Injection wells and other methods of infiltration of water into the ground may also be required. It is possible to directly measure the effects these larger harvesting efforts have on the aquifer. Yet, smaller scale efforts on the part of individual property owners can be just as effective at changing the balance in the aquifer in the communities’ favor even if they are difficult to precisely measure.
Removal of installed black plastic sheets from under landscape material is one of the first steps which should be considered by property owners to aid water infiltration into the ground. Use of plastic creates yet another large impermeable surface for water to run off yet does little to control weeds in the long term as it is damaged by foot or machine traffic or worn by the sun. New County Subdivision Regulations currently being revised propose to ban the use of impermeable ground cover in new common area landscaping.
Trenches filled with sand or gravel (French drains) can be used effectively to stop run off and direct water into the ground as can larger pits similarly filled. Small berms or dikes can be incorporated into a landscaping plan where water is known to run off a property in order to slow it down or “harvest” it so that it soaks into the ground. Depressions or small valleys in the landscape can also be effective. Water from downspouts can be directed to planted landscape areas or infiltration trenches or pits. With some additional effort and expense, rainwater can actually be collected and stored in tanks or cisterns for use during drier periods of the year. Care should be taken to avoid standing open water for long periods so that mosquitoes do not breed or creating deep bodies of water which might present a drowning danger. Blue Stake should be contacted in order to avoid underground utilities when digging. Every gallon of rainwater which is harvested and put to use avoids pumping another gallon from the aquifer. Every gallon of rainwater which is infiltrated into the ground does more than add to the aquifer. It helps control runoff and flooding of neighboring properties, prevents erosion, and keeps running water from picking up trash and pollutants and eventually carrying them to natural waterways. The soil acts as a natural filter as water works its way to the aquifer and helps protect the water from evaporation.
The County will seek the input of developers, builders and landscape specialists as it considers standards for all new construction for the harvesting and optional beneficial use or passive recharge/infiltration of rainwater in residential and commercial development. The County has already begun research on this concept. Standards to be developed may include plumbing and landscape requirements as well as infiltration mechanisms suitable for the passive collection and infiltration into the ground of such rainwater. Bypass or diversion mechanisms will be specified so that individual property owners will have the option of storing, passively infiltrating or directly using the rainwater harvested on their property. Filtration standards will also be required so that water infiltrated into the ground does not carry pollutants into the aquifer. Standards and requirements will be developed in 2003/4 for application in new construction by 2005.
Evaporative coolers or “Swamp Coolers” vary greatly in efficiency of water use depending on model and how they are set up and maintained. All use water as the primary coolant. A typical evaporative cooler can use as much as 15,000 gallons of water in a single year while a refrigeration type AC or heat pumps use none unless humidification is added. The initial cost of AC as well as the energy costs associated with AC over evaporative coolers is somewhat higher. However, given the water conservation benefits, the use of AC or heat pumps rather than evaporative cooling in new construction will be considered a factor in favor of approving a particular development.
Certain, so-called 2 stage evaporative coolers can markedly increase water efficiency as well as the cooling effectiveness of evaporative coolers year round. The location of an evaporative cooler can affect the amount of water used as well as the device’s overall efficiency. Roof-mounted single-stage swamp coolers are working on the hottest air, evaporating the greatest amount of water and are inconvenient to efficiently maintain. Ground mounted coolers on the other hand, can be easily shaded, are safer and more convenient to maintain and use less water. Additionally, ground mounted cooler bleed-off or sump dump output is more easily directed into the ground rather than allowed to evaporate.
The County intends to work with developers, builders and air handling businesses to develop a set of water saving best management practices and standards to be applied to future development in the County. Incentives for retrofit of water efficient air cooling may also be considered in the future.
The County will replace low efficiency evaporative cooling systems in its own facilities with more efficient technology as the life cycle of currently installed equipment runs out. Twenty-two evaporative coolers were replaced with AC units on county buildings during 2003 saving an average of about 45 gallons of water per day per cooler or nearly an acre-foot of water per year. New construction in County buildings will specify AC/heat pump technology as opposed to evaporative cooling.
The Board of Supervisors further encourages users of evaporative coolers to operate them as efficiently as possible by operating them only when a building is occupied and the temperature requires their use, by regular cleaning and lubrication, the use of high efficiency pads and their frequent inspection and replacement, proper adjustment of floats and prevention or repair of leaks.
Current County regulations already mandate the use of pool covers for new pool installations to minimize evaporation. Pool covers in addition to preventing loss of water through evaporation also aid in maintaining water temperature with less energy and help with the cleanliness of the pool. The Board of Supervisors intends to work with developers, builders and businesses installing and maintaining pools to develop best management practices and standards for future pool construction.
Swimming pools require periodic back flushing of their filters for efficient and safe operation. The back flushing procedure typically uses between 250 and 700 gallons of water each time depending on pool volume. The County intends to develop standards which require that this back flush water be kept on the owners property and be allowed to infiltrate into the ground. Again, a French drain mechanism should be sufficient to accomplish this purpose. (Could be combined with infiltration mechanisms for gray water and rainwater discussed elsewhere in this plan.)
It is important to note here that treated swimming pool water is not appropriately disposed of through septic or public sewer systems. The amount of water involved and the destructive effects of chemicals on the biological mechanisms essential to sewage treatment could overwhelm such systems or kill off beneficial bacteria used to break down impurities. This is particularly true in Sierra Vista area, where the municipal waste water treatment process is entirely biological and results in recharge of high quality water directly into the aquifer.
Owners of existing swimming pools are encouraged to research the benefits of pool covers and consider methods to infiltrate back flush water into the ground rather than allowing it to run off and evaporate. Pool maintenance contractors or swimming pool supply businesses should be contacted for information. Prospective pool purchasers are encouraged to make water conservation considerations an important part of purchase decisions and discuss them with contractors.
Artificial water features such as waterfalls, fountains, water wheels and ponds in common areas of residential developments or in any commercial construction while perhaps esthetically pleasing, send a message regarding the abundance of water which the Board of Supervisors considers inappropriate for a desert environment subject to frequent drought such as we experience today. Exceptions might be where such features make use exclusively of recycled effluent, harvested rain water or which contribute substantially to aquifer recharge. In general, artificial water features will be considered as a factor against approval or permitting of future construction when considering the impact of such construction on the water balance in the aquifer.
Application of building codes helps insure the safety and well being of county residents beyond the issue of saving water through the use of verified standards for construction applicable to designers and builders of all systems in all buildings. Building codes ensure safe construction to protect health and safety of the public. Low flow plumbing devices have been a State requirement for years. As additional building standards are put in place to accommodate the requirement to conserve water, it is likely that the application of International Building Codes (IBC) and inspection procedures will be extended throughout the Sierra Vista sub-watershed to permit the County to check that these measures are being complied with when performing code-related inspections. Additional staffing will likely be required to accommodate the additional reviews and inspections. The Board of Supervisors expects to consider the expansion of the area of application of building codes in the sub-watershed as part of the normal planning process. The enhancement of water conservation within the sub-watershed will be one factor in this decision which will be subject to public hearing and Planning and Zoning Commission review prior to enactment by the Board of Supervisors.
Artificial turf is viable water conservation technology which might be considered by developers to mitigate water use in new construction. Artificial turf offers a realistic, safe and easily maintained turf cover. Since artificial turf is permeable, rainwater passes through and infiltrates the ground. The turf acts as its own mulch to help reduce evaporation. Pumping to irrigate turf uses an enormous amount of water. Some landscapers say an acre of Bermuda grass needs well over one million gallons of water annually to remain healthy. Artificial turf eliminates the necessity to pump this water from the aquifer. Artificial turf is especially adaptable to use on athletic fields where it enjoys a remarkable safety record. Maintenance costs for mowing, seeding, fertilizing and electricity to pump groundwater for irrigation are greatly reduced. Some of these advantages, especially the water savings and ease of maintenance can accrue to a private homeowners as well. The use of artificial turf would certainly be considered a factor in favor of approval of development plans and could offer an alternative to or reduce the need for large detention/retention basins in new developments. The Board of Supervisors encourages the use of artificial turf.
Permeable pavement is another technology which can contribute to infiltration of water into the ground. Permeable pavement is a process of manufacture of asphalt rather than a separate product. In essence, asphalt is made with the smaller bits of aggregate left out of the mix. This process leaves voids through which water can pass. Again, as is the case with artificial turf, the asphalt covering acts as its own mulch to reduce evaporation. Infiltration is enhanced. Run off is reduced. Certainly, paved areas with hazardous materials in use, like fueling stations or auto repair facilities might not be suitable for use of permeable pavement. Permeable pavement is reputed to be quieter and offer less chance of hydroplaning as well. The Board of Supervisors encourages consideration of permeable pavement use as a best management practice.
In general, people and businesses within Cochise County are responsible water users who understand and support the need to conserve water. As Stated throughout this plan, conservation of water makes sense when living in a desert. Saving water makes sense in drought conditions. Preservation of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and the surface flow of water in the San Pedro River is an economic, social and environmental imperative especially as regards supporting Fort Huachuca as it works to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and its Biological Opinion with the Fish and Wildlife Service. While we generally have a responsible citizenry that recognizes the shared responsibility we all have for the conservation of water, the Board of Supervisors realizes that a requirement may exist in some instances to compel appropriate behavior when people act contrary to the best interests and the welfare and safety of all.
The Board of Supervisors will seek the authority from the State to enact measures to make the intentional or negligent waste of water within the County a misdemeanor after initial notice of the violation. Water waste may be defined, at least initially, as the intentional or negligent discharge or release of ground water in the public right-of-way, onto adjacent property, or into storm or sanitary sewers or washes. Such a rule might apply for example to overspray of sprinkler systems onto sidewalks and roads.
Commercial operators of automatic sprinkler systems may be required to install and operate a rain sensor. Watering or irrigating while it is raining might be considered a waste of water and creates an erroneous impression regarding the availability of water in a desert environment. A rain sensor is a device mounted in an open area outdoors and wired to the common wire of an irrigation system. The rain sensor overrides the irrigation controller when adequate rainfall has occurred. This will keep the system from watering in the rain.
The Board of Supervisors intends to seek State authority to enact water waste ordinances in 2003/2004 with implementation set sufficiently far in the future to allow for modifications to be made to existing systems and devices which might be considered water wasters under any such ordinance(s).
Some areas in Arizona, particularly those designated as Active Management Areas with municipal water systems, have implemented conservation pricing. This is a scheme where additional water used above certain base amounts is priced higher as more water is used. Cochise County water users are served by private, not municipal water companies and no Active Management Areas have been established by the State in this county.
Water in Arizona generally does not have a commodity price attached to it. What customers pay is actually the cost of storage and distribution systems, maintenance and administrative costs, plus a reasonable rate of return on investment to the owners of private water companies. Private water companies operate as utilities under the jurisdiction of the Arizona Corporation Commission and are charged to deliver the utilities according to the customers’ request at a fixed price established at rate setting hearings by the ACC. The mechanism for establishing a “conservation rate” does not exist today except for municipal water providers or in active management areas. The Board of Supervisors recognizes the potential conservation incentive, or disincentive to overuse, of pricing water higher the more one uses. Some sentiment exists at the State level for exploring how such a pricing scheme might work in jurisdictions serviced by a private water company. Setting baseline usage amount by type of user, calculating appropriate rates, and determining how the additional revenue generated might be put to use are among the challenges to establishing a conservation pricing scheme which might apply locally. The Board of Supervisors will continue to participate in State activities at the Corporation Commission, the Department of Water Resources, the Growing Smarter Oversight Council, the Governor’s Drought Task Force and the legislature to seek to develop a program of some form of conservation pricing which could be applied in the Sierra Vista sub-basin.
Conservation easements as used in Cochise County are perpetual deed restrictions which in one way or another limit development or water use for irrigation purposes on private property. Several members of the USPP have mechanisms in place to acquire conservation easements within the sub-watershed. Generally, a private property owner is paid a certain amount to enter into agreement limiting development and irrigation on their property or on property they intend to purchase. Fort Huachuca has set aside funds to purchase conservation easements in the sub-watershed as a way of meeting water mitigation goals established by their agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Often a third party such as The Nature Conservancy is involved to facilitate the purchase and resale of land and typically the Bureau of Land Management is designated to monitor and enforce the easements in perpetuity.
In each case of a conservation easement within the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed in Cochise County, it is the private property owner’s decision whether or not to enter into the agreement. Future development of the property under conservation easement is in one way or another restricted. The restrictions are completely voluntary and result in agreed on compensation. Additionally, the property involved remains private property and continues to contribute county and special district property taxes while requiring fewer county services than fully developed properties. Closely related to conservation easements is the fee-purchase of land to set it aside and protect it from development. The Board of Supervisors favors these voluntary agreements to preserve open space, establish wildlife corridors, and preserve habitat and to conserve water. As a member of the Upper San Pedro Partnership, Cochise County will continue to support and assist where possible in efforts to establish voluntary conservation easements within the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed.
Many jurisdictions in the United States today are turning to mechanisms like impact fees to pay for infrastructure required as a result of new development. Indeed, some jurisdictions charge high fees to simply hook up to municipal water and sewer systems. Aurora Colorado for example charges a one time fee of $12,000 per house to hook up to their system. Locally, Fort Huachuca charges a per-position fee to new activities arriving on the fort when they are unable to demonstrate the ability to mitigate additional water use. These fees are used to pay for community-wide efforts to conserve, reclaim, treat or augment water supplies from new sources. Currently the Board of supervisors relies on compliance with best management practices, building codes, zoning regulations and measures such as those enumerated in this assessment to accomplish water mitigation. New fees, taxes or other funding sources may be required in the future to pay for infrastructure needed to conserve, reuse or augment water in the sub-watershed.
Recently passed legislation at the State level does authorize the formation of Multi-Jurisdictional Facilities Districts to fund and supervise water infrastructure. For the first time, it permits private water companies and municipal providers to come together to form special water related districts. It is not clear whether this legislation applies to infrastructure specifically intended for conservation, such as recharge basins. Nor is the funding authority of these special districts sufficiently clear in the new law. Neither do we know the position of the Arizona Corporation Commission on how private water companies might participate. Establishment of such a district requires a majority vote of the residents of the area involved and the agreement of owners and stockholders of private entities before such a district could be formed. Again, while such a district is conceivable in the long term, the County will continue to rely on its participation in the Upper San Pedro Partnership, and inter-governmental joint planning agreements to provide the regional/local approach to water conservation issues in the sub-watershed.
The Board of Supervisors would prefer to see area growth patterns result from natural factors such as the availability of developable land and the decisions of citizens as to how best use that land and manage the growth on it. The Board would like to see the development of the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed emerge in an orderly way; not disrupted by economic shocks such as might occur should the operations of Fort Huachuca be substantially reduced or eliminated. Water issues, are solvable with foresight and planning and by contributions from all sectors of society. We can avoid stringent artificial limitations on the ability of the region to develop in an orderly and economically viable but environmentally responsible way.
Citizens may still disagree over the amount of water available to users in the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed of the San Pedro River. Not all agree on the amount of deficit or even that there is a deficit. Much is still a mystery concerning the movement of water in the sub-watershed. It is difficult to predict with certainty when human actions in the sub-watershed might negatively impact the San Pedro. It is equally hard to fathom the impact of drought or other weather patterns. Yet, there is a reality. We do live in a desert. The water underground is, so far anyway, our only source of water. We are in the midst of prolonged drought. Cochise County is an old county with a storied past. Yet, in terms of development, we are in the early stages. We can, if we choose to, take actions now which will preclude drastic action related to water in the future. We can establish local policies and local practices which resolve our water issues and avoid the horror stories in place elsewhere in the world.
It is true, when looked at in isolation, that there is ample water in this watershed to sustain human activity far into the future, even if we continue to pump out more than is replaced. What is also clear is that unrestricted groundwater pumping will eventually have a negative impact on the San Pedro National Riparian Conservation Area. What is equally clear is that the Army has accepted that deficit groundwater pumping, including theirs, may potentially harm the San Pedro River and consequently the endangered species which depend on that habitat. The Upper San Pedro Partnership, which includes all of the local governments in the sub-watershed, state and federal government agencies, and numerous other stakeholders, has reached a similar conclusion.
The Board of Supervisors does not intend that this plan predict specific water savings or to set a particular target in terms of acre-feet per year (AFY) of mitigation or avoidance of future use. Cost and yield will be considered at the time each of these policies or projects are put into practice. Measurable savings will certainly be reported as they are noted. As science continues to tell us more about the water model in the sub-watershed, the scope of actions taken, the level of investment or project implementation schedules may change. The Board’s overall objectives of minimizing withdrawals from the aquifer and maximizing reuse, recharge and augmentation will not.
Whether one’s stake is political, economic or moral, preservation of the surface flow of water in the San Pedro River is a local imperative. Whether one’s reasons for conservation are to make further growth possible, ensure the continued operation of Fort Huachuca, preservation of endangered and other species dependent on the river, offsetting the effects of drought or simply a moral disposition toward conservation, the Board of Supervisors wishes to work with all citizens, whatever their stake, to resolve the water issue in this sub-watershed. It is time, for the sake of the river, for the sake of the fort, for the sake of future generations to abandon divisiveness and cooperate to conserve, reuse, recharge and augment our local water supply to the point we can achieve a permanent balance in the aquifer.