The Babocomari River Restoration Project
Funder: The Walton Family Foundation – Spring 2013 – Currently in Phase II
Borderlands Restoration L3C, in collaboration with the US Geological Survey and Lacher Hydrological Consulting, is testing the idea that the most cost-efficient way to recharge the Sierra Vista sub-basin aquifer is to harvest rainwater in the tributaries of the San Pedro River. We are using low-technology water-harvesting methods and develop models to predict and closely monitor the impact of water harvesting structures on groundwater recharge and surface flow in the Babocomari River, a major tributary of the San Pedro. We use methods pioneered by BR L3C founding partners Valer and Josiah Austin, who have successfully restored surface flows to a five-mile stretch of the Rio San Bernardino in Sonora, Mexico.
Bringing surface flows back to the Rio San Bernardino required 10 years; we envision that the Babocomari project will require a similar period of time; however, this project is a two-phased, two-year project with measurable outcomes that will constitute a first steps towards our long term goal of contributing to the recharge of the Sierra Vista subbasin aquifer. The first phase of the project was a six-month study using modeling, field surveys, and test structures to determine the feasibility of restoring the aquifer and stream flows, to build community and landowner support, and then we designed the larger 18-month Phase II project. The project is currently in Phase II.
Overall, our project is designed to determine if there are economical methods for decreasing erosion, increasing infiltration rates, and, ultimately, recharging the aquifer and increasing stream flow in the Babocomari River and the San Pedro mainstem. We are also improving wildlife habitat as we build water-harvesting structures. We are training and employing local backhoe operators and local ranch hands in restoration methods and to assist in trinchera and gabion construction. We have recruited and trained local volunteers to assist in collecting seeds and growing native plants to re-vegetate disturbed habitat and to monitor habitat improvements, and monitor the results of our work.
The desired outcome of the entire two-year project is to demonstrate that the Babocomari River can be restored and can significantly contribute to recharging the Sierra Vista sub-basin aquifer. If successful, the full two-year project will rally public and municipal support, serve as a demonstration site for best restoration and management practices, garner additional funding from multiple sources, and ultimately lead to the restoration of stream flow and wildlife habitat on the Babocomari River, while significantly contributing to the recharge of the regional aquifer.
Work at Babocomari and other sites can usefully be considered the simultaneous creation of a “restoration platform” for on-ground work that includes research and educational opportunities. The Babocomari Restoration Project represents a significant example of such a platform, one that has exceeded even our expectations for the way the project and its potentials resonate with myriad organizations and individuals. Under careful guidance and monitoring, which requires steady and careful maintenance of the restoration network once it has been built, these platform-projects attract researchers, school groups, restorationists in training, and others who can contribute to project objectives and deliverables while pursuing their own individual or organizational goals.
Accomplishments & Progress:
Discover the latest USGS study delineating artificial recharge zones and identifying favorable artificial recharge sites using integrated remote sensing (RS), geographical information system (GIS) and multi-criteria decision making techniques for augmenting groundwater resources.
1. Runoff Modeling Report – USGS modeling to evaluate local surface runoff, infiltration, erosion and sediment yield to be incorporated into planning for types, sizes, and placement of Phase II detention structures. Baseline measurements of micro-topography, soil and vegetation types, and infiltration rates will improve the functionality of the model to predict runoff, sediment yield, peak discharge and plant habitat suitability.
2. Vaughn Canyon Restoration: Installing structures to stabilize the head-cutting and downgrading occurring in Vaughn Canyon (as detailed in the Detention Structure Implementation Plan). Quick response to fires and flooding potentials stabilized the canyon just in time, including a major road drainage that threated to cause extensive cutting and reduce sheet flow potentials. Monitoring points have been established in coordination with USGS and the landowner.
3. Pacheco Spring Project: We have installed the first 100 water harvesting structures in tributaries to Hay Canyon.Over half of the structures required to reduce erosive pressure and increase hydrologic function at Pacheco have been installed. Resources were temporarily diverted to Vaughn Canyon in response to the combined effects of two fires and a 100-year flood, and Pacheco work will be complete in spring 2015. The time lag will increase participation of groups such as NRCS and The Antelope Foundation.
4. Technical Reviews: Throughout the project, BR will be partnering with scientists and experts to evaluate the scientific and social progress of the project. Reviews will then advise the project leaders and
funders of needed mid-course corrections to achieve the project goals, as evidenced by a written report with analysis and recommendations completed by the review team. Review team participants to date:
USFS, NPS, AZ State Forestry, and the newly formed Sky Island Restoration Coalition [SIRC]—a unique combination of research, outreach and expanding restoration opportunities that cross administrative boundaries: Borderlands Restoration, USFS, USGS, FWS, NPS, Cuenca los Ojos, Sky Island Alliance, The Nature Conservancy. Click Here to read the Babocomati River SIRC brief.
6. Spring/Wetland Restoration: Installed wildlife-friendly fencing to protect and restore the brook run of T4 Spring, while providing ample access to water for the ranch’s cattle. The effort represents an important collaborative breakthrough on the ground In response to the effort and need, Sky Island Alliance provided funding for the fence material and labor, and technical expertise to establish a botanical baseline for the spring reach. Rangeland consulting partner Dan Robinett discussed any planting needs and a monitoring scheme. The fence is approximately 2500 feet in length and encloses 4.5 acres and protects approximately 800 feet of spring run from cattle grazing.
7. Community Update Meetings: BR conducted a second series of three Stakeholder Meetings including fieldtrips to restoration sites, to explain the progress of the work and to build public trust and participation.
8. Training: Increasing the capacity of people to do this work on the landscape takes attention to building skills within our organization & from others who have been doing this work. In December 2014, we sent our restoration crew to an intensive five-day training session on Rancho San Bernardino in Mexico, through collaboration with the Austins’ Cuenca los Ojos structure builders, for our crew members to assist and learn from the Mexican workers who have installed dozens of these structures. Borderlands crew members were excited by the opportunity to learn from such experts, and expressed gratitude that they received such high respect and such a significant investment in their growing skills and craft. In addition, we have secured a large supply of rock for the gabions from Joe Quiroga of Jelks Ranch, saving us several thousand dollars in material and transport fees, in exchange for some work on head cutting issues in the O’Donnell Ciénega above the Research Ranch, in the upper reaches of the Babocomari watershed. The restoration-collaboration nexus here represents an important development in regional coalition and capacity building, as Quiroga has tremendous respect in the region as a land manager and restoration practitioner with much to teach our collaborative as
we grow in scale and impacts.