SPRINGERVILLE — The Arizona Game and Fish Department is implementing a water quality improvement project along the banks of the Little Colorado River on its Wenima Wildlife Area located just north of Springerville.
The 355 acre property is managed for native wildlife, and includes 2.5 miles of the Little Colorado River. Some of the river’s stream banks are very unstable, and large amounts of soil is washed downstream when water levels rise. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality funded a water quality improvement grant to address these eroding banks.
The Department originally purchased this 355 acre property in 1993 with the aid of the Heritage Fund, which utilizes Arizona lottery monies to protect habitat for threatened and endangered species. Since the 1993 acquisition, the habitat within the Wenima Wildlife Area boundaries has greatly improved, but a few sections of the river continue to experience excessive erosion events during spring run off and after large monsoon rains.
The Department applied for and was awarded a water quality improvement grant administered by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
This week the dirt moving work began in earnest. An excavator was put to work along the bank of the Little Colorado River experiencing the most erosion. The seven foot tall vertical dirt bank has been known to move more than ten vertical feet each year, equaling many tons of dirt washed down towards Lyman Lake.
The new bank will be sloped, shored up with ponderosa pine tree logs to re-direct the water flows away from the bank, and the new bank planted with native vegetation. These actions will change the structure of the bank, and greatly reduce the amount of soil washed downstream. Similar remedies will be applied to an additional five river banks also suffering high erosion rates.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department will be conducting a volunteer day at the project site on Saturday May 7 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Volunteers will work side by side with Arizona Game and Fish personnel, and plant native willow shrubs within the project site. The objectives of the work day is to educate the public about the importance of healthy watersheds, and get them involved first hand with restoring riparian habitat along the Little Colorado River. Those interested in attending should contact Dave Cagle at (928) 367-4281 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2002, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality with the US Environmental Protection Agency reported on the Little Colorado River TMDL for Turbidity. Two sections of the LCR, totaling 16 miles, were listed as impaired due to violations of the turbidity standard for Aquatic and Wildlife coldwater streams. One of these segments includes the Wenima Wildlife Area. These reaches of the LCR were placed on the 303(d) List based on sampling taken from 1991 through 1996.
Field observations indicated that the main causes of turbidity are due to historic stream channel manipulation and loss of vegetative cover due to historic and current grazing practices. The project’s primary goal is to reduce the erosion rates and lower turbidity levels in the Little Colorado River.