Thu, May 23

Game and Fish raises concerns over spring <br>flows at hatchery

Arizona Game and Fish officials consider the Page Springs Hatchery a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when it comes to growing trout.

The hatchery supplies 70 percent of the trout — mostly rainbow — that the agency stocks rivers and streams with across the state, including in Yavapai County and Oak Creek Canyon, said Bill Werner, Game and Fish aquatic habitat coordinator.

And there’s a reason for that: perfectly temperate, natural springs steadily flowing onto the hatchery property produce the best conditions for raising rainbow trout, which average 8 to 10 inches long when they’re ready to be released.

So when Game and Fish officials noticed flows from the natural springs that feed the hatchery facility were diminishing, they began looking into the source of water use in the area.

Last week, David Walker, Game and Fish’s habitat branch chief, presented the Yavapai County Planning and Zoning Commission with a letter citing concerns about groundwater pumping with regard to a request for approval of a proposed equestrian facility at the site of the Dancing Apache Ranch.

The Dancing Apache Ranch is located along Page Springs Road near the hatchery, where Walker said a reduction in flow to Page Springs during the past year coincided with the development of a well in the vicinity of the ranch property.

Walker wrote that his department was concerned that development of the ranch property, now referred to as B Cross Ranch, would negatively affect water flows and “adversely impact our ability to produce fish at our hatchery.”

“It’s our main source of water ... it’s very important to running the hatchery,” Werner said of the spring water that the agency and other landowners have access to from the Page Springs Ditch. “We have been monitoring the spring flow for a number of years.”

Werner said for the agency to continue its production of trout for stocking, steady water flow of the quality the springs furnishes is necessary to ensure the volume of fish the facility presently yields. The department asked the county to review the water supply in the area and its use on the site of the proposed equestrian facility before commissioners approved the request at last Wednesday’s meeting.

Yavapai County Planner Susan Bronson advised commissioners that based on the letter, which arrived around 4 p.m. the day before the meeting, perhaps the item should be deferred so more information could be gathered. County staff’s review of the project found it was consistent with the county’s general plan, which provides for the preservation of rural and agricultural uses.

Although applicant Ida Bryson reluctantly agreed, two commissioners expressed irritation that the state agency made a last-minute plea for delaying the request when it had plenty of time to respond prior to the meeting. No one from Game and Fish appeared at the meeting.

District 3 Commissioner Curt Garner said the commission was present to make land-use decisions not determine water policy and in fairness to the applicant wanted to see the commission hear the application. District 1 Commissioner Albert Wood concurred and the item went forward.

Bryson, speaking on behalf of landowner Jim Offield, who also owns the El Rojo Grande Ranch along Arizona 89A near Sedona, assured commissioners that even though a well had been drilled on her property recently, it was not the well to which Game and Fish officials were referring.

The 357-acre Dancing Apache Ranch was sold at auction in late 1998 after being divided into five parcels. At the time, it was the largest remaining privately-owned tract in the Verde Valley. Offield purchased an 81-acre parcel that Bryson said they were seeking to develop into an equestrian facility. She said they also have plans to build a home on the property.

Bryson said after the purchase they did drill an artesian well that yields 1,800 gallons per minute. She said it is solely for domestic use to supply water for their 23 horses and future home and any water not used returns to Oak Creek. She continued that they do not irrigate with well water and use a commercial truck to haul water for dust control on the dirt road.

“Certainly it would not impact the Page Springs fish hatchery,” said Bryson. “We are very water conservative.”

Rather, she said, a property owner adjacent to them drilled a well that is producing 2,200 gallons per minute, and she believes that is the well that might be affecting spring flows.

Bryson said that in addition to raising and training horses to sell, the facility will host team-roping and other equestrian events, to include 4-H horse shows three to four times a year. She said her property has facilities and room for parking to accommodate up to 70 horse trailers and 300 people who might attend the above-mentioned events.

Commissioner Jim Buchanan added a stipulation to the conditions of approval that staff review the need for turn lanes onto the property and improvements to the access driveway. The permit, if approved, will be effective for five years.

Following a brief discussion about the project proposal, commissioners overwhelmingly recommended the Board of Supervisors approve the request. Garner thanked Bryson for providing “something to the community it really needs.”

Following the hearing, Werner acknowledged Game and Fish does not yet know specifically which well is responsible for reducing spring flow but generally attributes lower water flows in the area to increasing growth and development.

“I’m not sure which it is ... we’re aware that there are a number of wells in the area,” he said, adding the agency has no objection to the equestrian facility itself.

He said as a result of his department’s concerns about spring flows, they are working with the Arizona Department of Water Resources to determine the number of wells drilled in the vicinity and the volume of water being pumped.

At this point, he said he also was unaware of any recourse his agency might have if excessive pumping is the problem.

“It’s a very important facility to the department,” Werner explained, “it will be taken seriously.”