TUESDAY, NOV 3, 2296
Eric Lee, A-SOCIATED PRESS
TOPICS: SUSTAINABILITY, FROM THE WIRES, SAN PEDRO WATERSHED, HISTORY
TUCSON (A-P) — The San Pedro Watershed is west of the Wilcox Basin, a watershed without an outlet, and east of the Santa Cruz, Tucson's watershed to which most exports go. The San Pedro River starts near Cananea in what was once Mexico and flows north to the Gila River. The San Pedro drains an area of approximately 12,200 km2 (4,720 square miles).
Sierra Vista is the largest urban area that once supported over 50,000 people. It began in 1892 as a saloon and brothel just outside of Fort Huachuca which the fast growing city annexed in 1971. Sierra Vista was the site of the first McDonald's drive thru in 1975, a provider of fast foods for those driving cars. It went global in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and lasted until the end of the Car Culture. Today the remaining roof area collects rainfall to support urban and suburban agriculture.
Tombstone was founded in 1879 as a mining town that soon became an outlaw town and regional Big City. After the silver ran out, Tombstone proved to be the town "too tough to die" by becoming a tourist town. Some still live there, it still hasn't died, and some determined tourists still go there to take in a staged shootout. The only other town is Benson, that was founded in 1880 when the railroad came through on its way to Tucson and beyond. Later, an interstate highway came through too. A spur once went south into Mexico. Nearby St. David is an agricultural village that once had the rarity of artesian wells.
The Lower San Pedro remains as it was in the late 19th and 20th centuries, a region of scattered ranches. Before the cattle and missionaries came, about a dozen Indian villages farmed along the then flowing river and they were surrounded by sparse nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes with whom they did not get along. Before the farmers, Paleoindians hunted Mammoths in the valley 10,000 years ago before exterminating them.
The Spanish brought cattle in the 17th century and they went feral, but by the 1850's they were gone due to predation by Indian, settler, and those passing through headed for California. But they were replaced by herds of cattle, horses, sheep, and goats protected by their owners. Now the river flows intermittently after rains and flows year around in places where the bedrock forces the groundwater up.
By 1870, when the US Army had subdued the Apache, there were about 5,000 head of cattle in the entire Arizona Territory. In 1872 just one Texas rancher brought in 15,500 head and a "grass is gold" advertising campaign brought more humans and many more cattle. By 1880 there were over 8,000 head of cattle and 10-12,000 sheep in the San Pedro Watershed alone. By the late 1880's, extensive soil erosion and arroyo cutting, likely secondary to overgrazing and high runoff rates, had begun. By 1891, there were over a million head of cattle, and when the expected (hoped for) rains didn't come in 1891 or 1892, half to three-quarters of the livestock starved and strip-grazed the Territory to the dirt prior to death. When the rains came massive soil erosion occurred, arroyo cutting lead to river entrenchment...loss of wetlands (the San Pedro was once called Beaver River)...loss of floodplain vegetation, and the top soil never came back nor did the grasslands. The "grass is gold" promise became "grass is dust" and the range never recovered.
The Lower San Pedro is still being grazed but, with Federation range science oversight, recovery is ongoing. Without livestock grazing at all, recovery would be quicker, but few humans would be able live in the area, as apart from roof rainwater, agriculture is limited to managed grazing within the buffer areas. Unlike the Santa Cruz Watershed with their high human population, buffer areas are not limited to human visitation. The Lower San Pedro is mostly inhabited by 22 ranches, one family plus a few ranch hands each, about every 5 km along the river that is also slowly recovering. The ranchettes cooperatively manage livestock within the Lower San Pedro commons. The humans live on less than 1% of the land and so 99% of their 20% is managed for sustainable grazing with measurable range improvement every decade. Deer that enter the buffer area are occasionally hunted. Some hunting is by outside city folk by perpon permit. When there are livestock or livestock products to trade (e.g. goat cheese, wool, hides) the cowgirls herd the stock over the pass into Tucson. In return, they get city services, fresh plant produce, and occasionally a replacement solar panel or smartbook to bring back. Stories are told of the transition days, and all realize how fortunate they are to live the prosperous life.
The Lower San Pedro has two towns. San Manuel was once a mining town and its roof area supports agriculture. The weather attracts retiree snowbirds from the north who can use fewer resources living in the Southwest where at some time of the day the temperature is comfortable year around. Often the weather is practically perfect late winter afternoons or early summer mornings. Unlike in humid areas, evaporative cooling of small, well-insulated rooms works well and winters are often sunny and hot waters keeps the room comfortable. Winkleman, where the San Pedro meets the Gila River, is a similar community of the prosperous.
The Upper San Pedro is more urban with agricultural villages dependent on rainwater catchment. The interwatershed railroad and Highway services support Benson, tourism supports Tombstone's 18 residents, and Sierra Vista provides Big City services especially for those in the Upper San Pedro who rarely go to Tucson. Sierra Vista is a mini-Tucson providing medical, repair, and craft manufacturing services as well as import distribution. The military base once supported the city and the San Pedro Militia is headquartered there providing interwatershed material transport and are ever ready to be called up should an outlying empire builder attack a Federation member.
The Upper San Pedro, although historically the more degraded, also supports ranchettes and grazing, but the buffer area around the urban areas are only for human visitation. Runoff from paved roadways is collected, stored in cisterns, and put in troughs by shepherds to water livestock grazing the buffer along roadways. Milk goats provide dairy products for the urban population.
The remaining 80%, as required, is for nature with occasional human visitation by permit only. Because the human population of the San Pedro Watershed totals 2,300, compared to the Santa Cruz's 89,000, residents could be given permits more often than in most watersheds and permits were not uncommonly given to ecotourists from the highly populated Santa Cruz Watershed and elsewhere. The San Pedro had been one of the only rivers in the Southwest to have not been dammed pre-transition or developed, and so the level of environmental degradation, especially in the Lower San Pedro, was not as extensive as most areas. Without groundwater pumping, increasingly long sections of the river are flowing year around and beaver, once again as they had been pre-transition, have been reintroduced and are also prospering.