Water Replenishment Efforts Benefit San Pedro River and Private Wells

Sierra Vista, AZ | March 21, 2017

Water replenishment efforts in Cochise County are working: Groundwater levels are rising near two recharge facilities along the upper San Pedro River.  

The two recharge facilities are storing water in the ground that would otherwise have been lost, thanks to the efforts of the Cochise Conservation and Recharge Network. Given the success of these efforts, the network is planning two additional recharge projects. 

“Instead of losing the extra runoff that is generated in developed areas, or losing treated wastewater to evaporation, Cochise County and Sierra Vista are recharging almost 1 billion gallons of water back into the aquifer each year,” says Holly Richter, water projects director of The Nature Conservancy, a network member. 

The first aquifer replenishment project was Sierra Vista’s Environmental Operations Park; its recharge facilities became operational in 2002. That facility demonstrated that it could increase groundwater supplies and protect the river’s flows. 

“Monitoring data show that groundwater levels have risen for miles around that facility since it first became operational,” says Richter. 

The second facility – the Palominas Flood Control and Recharge Project – came on-line in 2014. It is capturing stormwater runoff and increasing the amount of water going into the ground to sustain the aquifer. 

The Conservancy purchased part of the Palominas site after research showed it was along a reach of the river where aquifer replenishment would be needed to sustain the river’s flows. The county already owned a parcel adjacent and downstream closer to the river, and was interested in flood reduction in that area in addition to recharge. The two parcels together were the perfect site for the project. 

The facility – designed, constructed and now owned and operated by Cochise County – was completed in 2014. It has received several awards for its unique design and construction. 

“This project is truly a win-win. It not only reduces flood hazards in the neighborhood, including the roads, homes and the school, but it also recharges the aquifer in an area where it can help the most,” she says.  

The San Pedro projects are unique in that they are the “first to be designed specifically to sustain the flows of a river system and to help rural communities,” says Richter. “The benefits to the aquifer, in terms of increases in groundwater, will be as important for water users on wells, as it will be for the river.” 

Other aquifer replenishment projects in the West have used treated wastewater or stormwater to boost groundwater levels in large metropolitan areas.

Based on the success of the first two recharge efforts, the network is looking to bring additional projects on line, on properties that also show great potential for water replenishment. 

The Conservancy, with funding from the U.S. Army’s Compatible Use Buffer Program, purchased the 2,984-acre Bella Vista property and the 1,811-acre Riverstone property. These properties were recently transferred to Cochise County, and planning for an additional facility is focused on the Bella Vista property, which includes Coyote Wash and other major tributaries that drain downtown Sierra Vista. Engineering studies are underway to determine how to best harness the increased runoff from downtown, to get it back into the ground and to help replenish the aquifer on this property. 

The Cochise Conservation and Recharge Network – whose partners include the Conservancy, Cochise County, the cities of Sierra Vista and Bisbee, and the Hereford Natural Resource Conservation District -- plans to launch another project at Horseshoe Draw this year on the privately owned Ladd ranch. That project will also recharge stormwater and prevent destructive flooding and erosion downstream, including roadways like Paloma Trail that have completely washed out in the past.   

Almost 1 billion gallons annually are being conserved on the lands now under management by Cochise County. That’s because wells near the river that had the most impact on its flows are no longer pumping water, and no additional wells will be allowed to pump in these sensitive areas in the future. These properties, purchased by the network, encompass more than 6,000 acres.    

Given extended drought, increasing the amount of water stored in the underground aquifer is a “no regrets” strategy for both local communities and the San Pedro River. “It’s an investment for both current and future generations, and today’s wildlife,” said Richter, whose well at her home also depends on these same limited groundwater supplies. 

“Partnerships have been the key to these projects – particularly the Palominas and Horseshoe Draw efforts,” said Pat Call, Cochise County Vice-Chairman of the Board and Supervisor of District 1. “Without significant funding from the Walton Family Foundation and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, completion of these projects might never have happened.”  

He adds: “By providing leadership through partnerships, the members of the network are committed to protecting the river as well as the quality of life for all residents living in the Sierra Vista subwatershed.”

Cochise County, established in 1881, is in southeastern Arizona at the International border of Mexico and spans more than 4 million acres. It is home to 130,000 residents and nearly 300,000 visitors each year.  It includes the historic cities of Bisbee, Benson, Douglas, Tombstone and Willcox. The City of Sierra Vista is home to historic Fort Huachuca, an active Army military installation. The County has jurisdiction over tax assessments, health and social services, solid waste, elections, and floodplain issues throughout the County.  It also has responsibility for courts, highway improvements, law enforcement, schools, libraries, and planning and zoning in the unincorporated areas.  Visit www.cochise.az.gov for more information. Public Programs…Personal Service

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Tana Kappel
The Nature Conservancy in Arizona

Lisa Marra
Cochise County


Stay Updated

Learn about the places you love and find out how you can help by signing up for Nature eNews.

I'm already on the list Read our privacy policy

Thank you for joining our online community!

We'll be in touch soon with more Nature Conservancy news, updates, and exciting stories.