Tricky Currents

Efforts To Save The Dwindling San Pedro River Grow More Complicated.

By Kevin Franklin

A REPORT CONCERNING the future management of the San Pedro River has fired up the propaganda machines and ire of various interest groups with stakes in the watershed issues of the region.

Environmentalists, ranchers, developers and property-rights activists, not to mention the various governing bodies in the Sierra Vista area, all have concerns about the report released by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

The CEC was established as a side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement and is supposed to "facilitate effective cooperation in the conservation, protection and enhancement of the environment in the three countries," according to the CEC report.

Currents Some of the more controversial suggestions in the report, including cessation of most agriculture in the area, have stirred up local farmers and ranchers. Some feel that the recommendations, with overtones of big brother-type control, are laying the groundwork for forcing them out of their jobs and homes.

"What right do these people have to come in and say my water is more important for some birds than it is for my livelihood?" says Ken Moore, who ranches and farms near the San Pedro. "It's easy to pick on a small minority. That's what they're doing."

Environmental groups, like The Southwest Center For Biological Diversity, take exception to other recommendations, such as surrendering the existing San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and moving its boundaries farther southward.

"This is supposed to allow the continued destruction of the river, while 'saving' the conservation area. Such thinking is narrow-minded in the extreme," writes SWCBD Executive Director Kieran Suckling in a press release. Suckling goes on to blast other recommendations in the report. "Importing water from the Tombstone pipeline, the Douglas Basin, or CAP is a temporary 'solution' that will only cause water problems in other areas and fuel unsustainable growth."

The CEC hired the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy as a neutral entity to gather public opinion on the matter, says Ann Moote, Udall Center senior research specialist. Moote is helping to coordinate the public meetings.

Moote points out that nothing in the report is binding and it only lays out observations and recommendations.

"The report ties together a lot of information that existed in other places." Moote says. "It summarizes the state of the knowledge regarding the hydrology, ecology and the links to the local economy. To a fairly large extent, that was its purpose. It also identified a wide variety of management options. People can look at those and take or reject or discuss or refine them. It's a good jumping off point for local people who are really interested in sitting down and deciding what kind of management they want for the future."

Despite the laissez-faire rhetoric in the report, people involved with the issue believe many of the suggestion will be enacted--unless they make it otherwise. In the past, some of these folks became dangerously serious about getting their point across.

"I don't know if you've heard stories about some of the big meetings they've had before," Moote says, "where things have gotten really hostile and people started shouting in a big auditorium setting. It can sort of turn ugly fast. We're going to manage this pretty tightly with strict ground rules with what's appropriate communication and what isn't. We really want to remind people that no one hears you if you're shouting."

An open house for information will be held July 28 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 156 Kayetan Road, in Sierra Vista. Public workshops will be held July 29 and 30 from 6 to 10 p.m. respectively at Benson High School on the corner of Seventh and Patagonia and at Buena High School, 525 Buena High School Blvd., just off Charleston Road east of Sierra Vista. Call the Udall Center (520) 621-7189 for more information or a copy of the report. TW

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