The Cochise County Board of Supervisors voted to approve $250,000 to fund a design concept study for the Bisbee Effluent Recharge project and $1,500,000 to fund the completion of the Coyote Wash Stormwater Management Project during Tuesday’s meeting.
“We need to be looking at right of way and conveyance of Bisbee’s effluent from the wastewater treatment plant in San Jose here over to the river,” said Cochise County Environmental Projects Coordinator Mark Apel. “And so, this $250,000 will allow us to take that next step forward in getting a design concept report — that will allow us to apply right of way permits, etc.”
“The design concept report will really give us a better idea of how much the pipeline will cost, what the right of way needs will be for getting that pipeline from the wastewater treatment plant over to the river, and give us a much better document and way to move forward on that — design and construction,” Apel continued.
The Bisbee Effluent project is an “Option Agreement between the City of Bisbee and the Board of Supervisors to purchase a minimum of 200 acre-feet of effluent from the City's San Jose WWTP, for the purposes of conveying and recharging the aquifer in close proximity to the San Pedro River at or near the border with Mexico,” according to the July 26 agenda.
The Bisbee Effluent Project was first initiated in 2019. The $250,000 will fund a design concept study.
The Coyote Wash Stormwater Management Project has been in progress since the land acquisition in 2014 — which was made in partnership with Fort Huachuca's Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) funds, according to the agenda.
The Coyote Wash Stormwater Management Project is located adjacent to the Buffalo Soldier Electronic Testing Range. With the County Supervisor’s approval, the final project design will also be approved and construction will begin.
With the REPI grant funds and changes to the project’s design, the county stated in the agenda that there is a more than 60% reduction in previous projections of construction costs, which will allow the Flood Control District ("FCD") to move additional funding to other flood control projects in the county.
“The FCD has committed $500,000 as a match for this grant and as previously budgeted for the Coyote Wash Recharge project,” as stated in the July 26 meeting agenda.
Cochise County District I Supervisor Tom Crosby questioned the impact of both the Bisbee Effluent and the Coyote Wash Stormwater Management Projects.
“I have kinda a hard time imagining that has a big effect on the Fort or the river, ‘cause of how far away it is,” said Crosby. “So, why is this a high priority for the Fort?”
“‘Cause this project is looking at conveying that effluent from where it’s currently discharging, all the way down to the border and over to the river, and putting it in an area that we have modeling results — that we haven’t quite reviewed just yet — that would have a good benefit on sustaining flows from the Mexican border north to the Palominas bridge on highway 92,” Apel responded.
“That particular reach has been decreasing inflow for the last 10 years,” Apel continued. “And so, the idea behind taking effluent over there would be to recharge it as close to the river as possible — not putting it directly in the river — but in the recharge basins, just like they do in the environmental operations park. So, it would have the highest effect or highest impact on the alluvial aquifer near the river.”
Crosby asked when Apel expects the aquifer to be recharged. Apel said the aquifer will be recharged “As soon as we start conveying effluent to the river.” Crosby then asked, “After what expenditure of money will the aquifer will be recharged?”
Apel said that the exact total isn’t known at this time. “That’s why we’ve got this chunk of funding to a design concept report that will give us some really good cost estimates on construction and design to move the project further along.”
Crosby wasn’t satisfied.
“Well, I don’t think you know when the aquifer will be recharged either/or how much it will cost,” said Crosby. “As I have stated before in reference to the recharge network, in my opinion, the aquifer will not be recharged until the next ice age. Efforts to recharge the aquifer are futile except to recharge a relative area amounting to a postage stamp on a football field. It’s a waste of scarce money on a false promise.”
Crosby then went off topic, discussing his adverse opinion on the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA) during the board’s discussion of the Coyote Wash Stormwater Management Project.
“All of this is based on the existence of the SPRNCA, which I say is fraudulent,” said Crosby.
According to the Bureau of Land Management’s website, Congress designated the riparian area as the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area on November 18, 1988. The main purpose of this designation is to protect the desert ecosystem.
Cochise County District II Supervisor and Chairman Ann English clarified the country and Fort Huachuca’s relationship following Crosby’s statement.
“Well, you’ve expressed your opinion, and I want to state that those are your opinions,” said English, responding to Crosby’s comments. “We do have a relationship with the Fort. It’s the economic driver in Cochise County, the biggest one at this time. The Fort is very dependent on the stability of the San Pedro River. That wasn’t our choice, it was by Congress when it was established.”
“And so, our efforts are to keep the Fort in a good position, because Congress says there is a relationship between the Fort and the San Pedro River,” English continued. “So, that’s why we work and that’s why we’re looking at grants coming through the Fort, around the Fort, anyway that we can help to keep the water situation from becoming a problem.”
However, Crosby continued to discuss and question the validity of SPRNCA instead of discussing the agenda item referring to funds for the Coyote Wash Stormwater Management Project, thus, provoking Chief Civil Deputy County Attorney Christine Roberts to interject a warning to Crosby about potentially violating the open meeting law.
“I believe the direction of Supervisor Crosby’s comments are going beyond the scope of the noticed discussion posted by the clerk of the board,” said Roberts. “Any further comments in this matter may be a violation of open meeting law.”
Crosby continued to interject, calling several points of order, demanding Roberts to tell him exactly what words within his 15-page statement violate which section of open meeting law. He announced on record that he was handing Roberts a copy of Arizona open meeting law statute 38-431.02.
“Supervisor Crosby, I have given you the warning,” said Roberts. “I told you, I am quite familiar with open meeting law violation — as you know I am an attorney. And I am telling you the noticed item is about a grant in the amount that is being awarded of $1.5 million dollars for the Bella Vista/Coyote Wash Stormwater. You have presented a discussion and given your colleagues on the board a handout that says ‘many reasons the SPRNCA doesn’t and shouldn’t exist.’ That is an entirely different topic that is not noticed.”
The motion for both allocations of grant funds passed by the vote of approval from English and District III County Supervisor and Vice-Chairman Peggy Judd. Crosby voted against both grant allocations.
Both the Bisbee Effluent Recharge Project and the Coyote Wash Stormwater Management Project are initiatives led by the Cochise Conservation and Recharge Network (CCRN).
Fort Huachuca included both projects in an application for funding from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Challenge. A total of $2.8 million dollars was awarded to the Fort on June 22.