National Geographic Features Trust

National Geographic blog features Arizona Land and Water Trust’s Desert Rivers Program

‘Well-managed land can give back more than it consumes.’ Sandra Postel, a Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society (NGS) and Director of the Global Water Policy Project, has featured Arizona Land and Water Trust and our landowner partner, Paul Schwennesen, in her NGS blog.

Sandra describes our ongoing Desert Rivers Program project on the Double Check Ranch, north of Tucson on the San Pedro River, which she visited last month.

Since 2007, the Trust’s Desert Rivers Program has been working with area farmers and ranchers to create innovative, voluntary water use agreements that both help sustain agricultural operations and secure water for our desert streams and river systems.

Sandra writes: “The San Pedro is the last major undammed river in the American Southwest. Unlike the Colorado River and the Rio Grande, which flow south toward Mexico, the San Pedro originates in Mexico and flows north some 160 miles before joining the westward flowing Gila River near the small town of Winkelman.

“It is a winding ribbon of green in the desert that offers biological riches far out of proportion to its size. The gallery forests of cottonwoods, willows and mesquite that band both sides of the river provide some of the best remaining habitat for birds and wildlife in the American Southwest.

“More than three hundred species of migratory songbirds seek out the San Pedro corridor as they journey between their wintering grounds in Central America and Mexico and their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada. More than fifteen percent of the world’s known population of western yellow-billed cuckoo breeds along the San Pedro. The river system also sustains some eighty species of mammals – one of the richest assemblages of land mammal species found anywhere in the world – as well as more than forty species of reptiles and amphibians.

“For such a modest river, its ecological wealth is extraordinary. But irrigated agriculture, copper mining, and in the upper reaches of the valley, urban growth have placed that wealth in jeopardy. Without the ability to reduce groundwater use and keep the river healthy and flowing, the San Pedro’s bounty and beauty will be sacrificed.

“That’s where Schwennesen comes in. He has partnered with the Tucson-based Arizona Land and Water Trust and hydrologists at the University of Arizona to see if he can ranch successfully and profitably while cutting his water use by some 20-30 percent. The strategy is to shift to low water-use crops that include a mix of native perennial grasses and an annual rye crop that is seeded directly into the green vegetative cover, avoiding the tillage action that can erode and dehydrate the soil.”

See more of the blog Sandra posted to the Water Currents section of the National Geographic website here.

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