COCHISE COUNTY, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Cochise County's Horseshoe Draw Erosion Control Project, completed less than five months ago, has won a prestigious Arizona Association of Counties (AACo) award.
The project, which reduces flooding, prevents rangeland soil loss, and helps decrease the flow of sediment and E-coli into the San Pedro River, will receive a 2017 Summit Award in the Community and Economic Development category.
Completed in July, the project is the result of a partnership between Cochise County, the Hereford Natural Resources Conservation District (HNRCD), the cities of Sierra Vista and Bisbee, and The Nature Conservancy, collectively known as the Cochise Conservation and Recharge Network.
Horseshoe Draw is located on the historic San Jose Ranch, owned by Jack and John Ladd, who approached the HNRCD about concerns over excessive soil erosion during the monsoon rains. The resulting high speed run off would rip out established vegetation and formed steep gullies, carrying tons of topsoil and E-coli bacteria toward the San Pedro River.
The HNRCD brought the problem to the attention of the county, which provided recommendations based on an engineering assessment.
Thanks to grants totaling $1,897,505 from the Arizona Water Protection Fund, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, and the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, more than 260,000 cubic yards of dirt was removed from the San Jose Ranch, transforming a steep wash into a shallow nine-acre basin over 38 acres.
The project, which was transferred to Cochise County after completion and will cost approximately $3,000 annually to maintain, has reduced erosion and flooding, as well as the transportation of E-coli and sediment to the San Pedro River. Additionally, it will restore the health of grasslands for livestock, as well as wildlife grazing and habitat, and is expected recharge up to 40-acre feet of water annually.
The San Pedro is the last major, free-flowing undammed river in the American southwest, and is a National Conservation Area protected by Congress. It is of major ecological importance as it hosts two-thirds of the avian diversity in the United States, including 100 species of breeding birds and 300 species of migrating birds.
Cochise County was also a recipient of a 2014 Summit Award for the Palominas Recharge Project, which was lauded as an example of true environmental progress while utilizing cutting edge thinking and stakeholder partnerships.
"Without local partners coming together to solve a critical issue for our county, we would continue to see a decline in the health of the watershed with no way to reverse the damage," said Ann English, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, who will accept the award on November 17 at a ceremony in Phoenix. "We are fortunate to live in a county with creative, talented and resilient people who come together and go beyond thinking outside the box to solve a problem and to protect our natural resources."
Karen Riggs, Director of the Highway & Floodplains Department, added, "Winning this award allows us to share our story with others and to communicate the type of projects we are undertaking in the region to arrest soil erosion and sedimentation into the San Pedro River, and to allow natural grasslands to heal, which are critical to our watershed health."