Preserving the San Rafael Watershed in Southern Arizona
Preserving the San Rafael Watershed in Southern Arizona
The San Rafael Valley Watershed is a largely undisturbed short-grass prairie grassland and forest community that provides a unique habitat where wildlife and humans coexist in harmony. The Patagonia Mountains, Huachuca Mountains, and Canelo Hills are designated as Madrean Sky Islands and recognized as one of the most biogeographically and biologically diverse regions in North America.
The majority of the land within the watershed is either:
We are committed to ensuring the Watershed is properly utilized by residents, ranchers, hunters, other outdoor enthusiasts and other compatible ventures. All land uses need maintain the current balance.
While private landowners are doing their part to preserve and protect the healthy ecosystem and diverse culture of the area, the 1872 Mining Act allows the US Forest Service (USFS) land to be used for mineral exploration and extraction.
IMPORTANT: The impacts of mining should not be viewed in the context of one mining proposal, but instead on the CUMULATIVE impacts of the past, the present and the future.
Mineral extraction of any kind has the potential to:
A Land in Balance is a not-for-profit charitable organization, created to protect and defend the diverse community culture, the long-term economic viability, and the healthy ecosystem of the San Rafael Valley watershed located in southern Arizona.
To learn more about how you can get involved, and make a positive impact, click below.
© Bob Sharp
The eastern side of the Patagonia Mountains is not within an Active (water) Management Area (AMA). Therefore, under Arizona law a mine could withdraw an unlimited amount of water without regard to the impact on the surrounding area.
The area supports 16 Endangered and Threatened species and a wide range of other wildlife that depend upon water for survival.
No water company or Central Arizona Project provides water from outside the watershed. Any reduction in the aquifer or redirection of surface runoff will directly impact residential wells and wells used to supply water to cattle and wildlife.
Uncontrolled withdrawal of water from the aquifer will negatively impact local wells (cone of depression), natural springs, riparian areas and the perennial flow of the Santa Cruz River headwaters, one of the last free-flowing, unspoiled rivers in Southern Arizona.
Water carries metals downstream for great distances, contaminating the water as it flows. Soil erosion and contaminant leaching are a major concern, especially during monsoon season when the volume and velocity of runoff increase significantly.
Mined materials exposed to oxygen and water can form acid mine water. Following rainfall, one can see this type of contamination from old mining operations in the Patagonia Mountains. A new mine may have to comply with more regulations than mines in the past; however, despite the laws and new technologies, there are still many examples of recent mine acid drainage accidents.
Attempted containment of contaminated water is too risky in a small watershed like the San Rafael Valley. Also, there is no alternative source of water to make up the loss of water that is no longer allowed to flow on the surface or seep into the ground.
Any degradation and contamination to the surface or groundwater will impact wells, natural springs, riparian areas and ultimately the Santa Cruz River.
Contaminated water at and from a mining operation could also cause injuries and death to wildlife in the area.
The area is covered with native grasslands, oak trees and cottonwood trees, and surrounded by mountain vegetation that maintains clean, fresh air, free of the pollutants found in populated, urban and industrialized areas.
A mine would introduce particulate matter from soil disturbance and exhaust from various vehicles and other equipment. Those wind-borne particulates cause health problems for any living organism and for infrastructures such as local observatories. This is already a problem in southern Arizona. Two open-pit mines in the Green Valley area have been cited for violations of air quality standards.
The Watershed is home to 16 Endangered Species, 2 Threatened Species in recovery, and 2 species proposed as Threatened..
The mountain areas of the watershed are part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Critical Habitat for jaguars.
The mountainous areas of the watershed are designated as wildlife corridors.
The San Rafael Valley Watershed is noted for its significant biodiversity.
The watershed is on the migration route for numerous bird species; many, such as the Elegant Trogon, are present for a large portion of the year.
Audubon has designated the Patagonia Mountains, Huachuca Mountains and San Rafael Valley as “Important Bird Areas.”
Mining will destroy habitat, eliminate food sources, reduce living space and fragment wildlife corridors. This will prevent wildlife from moving among the Sky Islands, cut off or change migratory routes, and change the current predator/prey balance.
Ranching has been the predominant economic activity in the San Rafael Valley for over 300 years. An open-pit mine would destroy grazing allotments in mining areas and devastate the corresponding ranching businesses.
The area has become one of the premier locations in southern Arizona for a variety of recreational activities that support the Santa Cruz County economy. Bicyclists, hunters, hikers, birders, visitors enjoying scenic rides, campers, and OHV riders would no longer visit the area, instead taking their tourism dollars elsewhere.
Miles of public roads and up to 60 square miles of land that is now used by the public for birding, camping, mountain biking, scenic drives, hunting, OHV riding and hiking would no longer be available for public use.
Land not used for mining will lose its appeal when the pristine landscape is scarred by an open-pit mine. Related facilities will destroy the physical landscape; create air, water, noise and light pollution; and destroy wildlife habitat.
With less open space, wildlife populations will decrease, making it less desirable for hunters and those who enjoy observing wildlife found in the area.
The noise and vibrations caused by drilling rigs, engines, heavy construction equipment, vehicles and blasting will transform an area that is currently quiet and peaceful to an area of continuous audio disturbance.
Listening to birdcalls or the quiet surroundings of the natural environment will be a thing of the past.
Historical documents identify seasonal villages in the area that were occupied by the ancestors of the Tohono O’odham during the Spanish migration. Native artifacts in the area and would be in danger of being destroyed or compromised by mining activity.
Homesteading was the federal government’s means of settling the west. Many of those homestead claims continue as ranches today and add to the rich history of the area.
In 2008, the ranch headquarters of the San Rafael Ranch, the original San Rafael de la Zanja land grant, was designated as a National Historic District.
Fray Marcos de Niza, the first European to set foot in what is now the United States, is commemorated with a National Historical Monument in Lochiel.
These cultural treasures must not be compromised in any way by mining activity.
The Watershed is free of light pollution and home to professional and amateur-operated observatories.
The nights in the San Rafael Valley Watershed are DARK. There are no streetlights, no lighted signboards and no businesses with exterior lights in the watershed. A round-the-clock mining operation and corresponding massive lights will destroy dark skies.
The renowned beauty of this intact, relatively undisturbed landscape and unique sustainable environment will be torn apart if mining becomes prevalent in the area.
Mining will require:
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