CIBECUE — Hundreds of acres of dry, desolate farmland will now have water thanks to Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood and her persistence with Washington officials.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill is helping with watershed projects throughout the North American tribal nations. The WMAT was one of only two areas selected in Arizona to receive the funding. Smith Wash in Pinal County was the other grantee.

On Thursday, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the department will invest $420 million in 132 infrastructure projects in 31 states, including an investment in two projects in Arizona.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our infrastructure, create good-paying jobs and build new economic opportunity,” Vilsack said. “Our watershed programs help communities rebuild after natural disasters and prepare for future events. These projects exemplify why this historic investment in our watersheds was needed and the adeptness of our agency to act swiftly.”

The big announcement took place at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Apache Behavioral Health services building in Cibecue. Attending were Keisha Tatem, USDA state conservationist; Gloria Montano Greene, USDA deputy under secretary for farm production; WMAT Councilman Arnold Beach Sr., WMAT Councilman Travis Tessay Sr.; Waylon Truax, WMAT dams safety engineer; and Lee-Gatewood with her podcast gear.

A giant marker board read: 90 miles of irrigation systems, 500-plus subsistence farming operations, 2,835 of irrigable acres with four major watersheds.

After introductions and discussions began, Beach expressed gratitude for this day, and the 16-year-old vision to get federal funding for irrigation improvement and bringing back local farming to the community.

Full of emotion, he jokingly said, “I’m so grateful I’m speechless, and I’m never speechless when my it’s my turn to talk at a meeting, but today I’m speechless.”

As people laughed, the room filled with excitement, and the round table discussion focused on generational farming, self-sustainability and the farm stories of tribal elders.

With just under 20 attendees, the group left the ABHS center for a field trip to the V-23 sector, the land where Beach grew up with his family.

After the Rodeo-Chedeski fire in 2002, the following years would provide more of a problem for the local farmers and homesteads surrounding Cibecue.

With burn scars surrounding the valley, the water runoff has now produced more dirty-rain runoff sediment causing culverts to clog and irrigation channels to become void. But before the fires, it wasn’t always that simple for agricultural operations.

In the early 1980s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs cut its ties in managing the system, and the tribe took over the operations. With the lack of clean water becoming more of a problem, fruit orchards became dry and deceased.

Besides the planting of gardens and fields, Beach spoke of large numbers of cattle that have now thinned into the herd it is today. Rumor has it, the world’s best peaches came from Cibecue, but those orchards suffered as victims to the mega-wildfires. The hope in future farming had all been lost, until now.

After a 10-minute drive out of town, the caravan crossed Cibecue Creek and parked under two towering cottonwood trees. Walking to the spillway, pictures were taken and interviews were given. With the birds chirping and trees in full bloom, the stories of the land were inspiring.

Cibecue Creek was flowing and bubbling crystal clear, fed by two artesian springs up the canyon. For the V-23 area, the goal is to improve irrigation, water-use efficiency, minimize soil erosion, protect surface ground water quality and improve plant productivity.

The grant is a little over $55,000 to start the planning and study process needed to launch phase one. Speaking of the surrounding neighbors, Beach said, “We are very, very grateful that this funding has arrived where the families will now have the opportunity to irrigate their fields when they plant.”

The USDA’s Tatem said, “The tribe has been working with our staff for several years on how we can address the issues with restoring the irrigation system. And now through the infrastructure bill we were able to fund the project and start planning as it relates to restoring all of the natural-resource issues in this watershed.”

Lee-Gatewood added, “This planning phase will take time, but it’s the beginning, and we are very, very fortunate for that.”

As phase one is already in motion, the hope for the future farmers of the White Mountain Apache Tribe is already being restored. Go to USDA.com for more information about other tribes across America getting watershed funding.

The developing story with Cibecue will be covered by the White Mountain Independent, and make sure to watch the mini documentary about the V-23 operations on the WMIcentral Facebook page, which will premiere at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Hopefully the rumor is true, and the world’s best peaches makes a triumphant comeback.

(2) comments

Russ_in_WML

more money to the rez from the American taxpayer

Riser

After we rebuild the irrigation system for them they will maintain it this time.

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