Water project in danger

Who would of ever thought that the renovation of a small but critical pothole that contains life-sustaining water in the southern end of the Black Mountains could create so much controversy?

But that is the case for Tipperary Tank, a small but essential water source that has been providing water for wildlife since 1980.

And though I think Don McClure, the assistant field manager of Renewable Resources at the local Bureau of Land Management office in Kingman, will make a positive decision in allowing the project to continue, I'm not sure how restrictions he could implement in that decision may ultimately affect the participation of the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society.

The ADBSS has almost single handily been responsible for putting in sheep waters all over Arizona and its goal is to put "sheep on the mountain for future generations."

In January, I wrote an article about how three wilderness groups had effectively put the brakes on the proposed renovation, which would ensure a reliable and permanent water source for the native bighorn sheep and other wildlife that live in some of the most rugged areas of the Black Mountains.

At a meeting last week in Prescott that was attended by two past presidents of the ADBSS, several members of wilderness groups, BLM staffers and members of the Arizona Game & Fish Department, plus a couple of interested members of the public, a lot of issues were discussed.

I went to the meeting as an interested member of the public as well as a member of the Mohave Sportsman Club.

What I came away with was the impression that a number of issues aren't going to be decided in favor of G&F and ADBSS.

The biggest issue was about the use of helicopters to take in up to 20 volunteers to the work site.

I didn't see a compelling case made to support this action by the ADBSS or G&F Department. This despite the fact that the G&F developmental crew has been reduced from six to four workers, and the hike to this remote site is more than three miles.

The BLM folks said they could do the hike to the site in an hour and a half, but that's not going to be the case for the average volunteer for this project.

That means the volunteers would have to hike in after daylight, work part of the day then hike back out before dark. Those who stay for a second day of work would have to do the same thing, and quite frankly, I don't see that happening at all.

The project will be completed sometime in January or February, at a time when it doesn't get light until after 8 a.m. and it gets dark at 5 p.m.

Considering that the water in the pothole, which could be as much as four to six thousand gallons, will have to be sucked out not by a generator with a pump - but with a hand pump, and then the pothole mucked out to bedrock that may be 2- to 6-feet deep, that's a lot of back-breaking work for a four-person G&F developmental crew to do by themselves.

With a few volunteers on site, it could be done quickly.

McClure made it clear to everyone that he didn't have a problem with any amount of volunteers walking in and working on the project, he just wasn't leaning towards letting volunteers being flown in and out by helicopter.

Then there was an issue of replacing a cable barrier designed to keep burros out of the pothole. G&F wants to replace the cable barrier with a pipe-rail fence, but again, the only reason they gave for doing it was it would take as much time to repair the cable as it would to install a new pipe-rail fence.

Everyone agreed the cable barrier was doing the job in keeping burros out.

Given the rules regarding building new structures in wilderness areas or repairing old ones already in place, I have to believe that there will be no new fence.

Then there was the issue of a shade covering to be installed over the pothole to reduce evaporation. The pothole sits in a canyon with steep walls all around and BLM believes there is shade on the pothole for most of the day. The G&F guys have to come up with some data to show that the shade cover is needed or else I don't see McClure approving that part of the project either.

The bottom line is that if I learned anything from this process it is that the groups involved in this process need to be able to support any actions they propose with facts and data that is consistent with the rules that govern actions taken within wilderness areas.

McClure says he will review all the data and issue a record of decision by the end of summer.

Now for the downside of this process.

If volunteers can't be flown in, it may be that the ADBSS will pull this project off their project list.

It would be a shame to see the ADBSS pull out. These folks are the most dedicated, knowledgeable and hard-working volunteers I know of when it comes to working on sheep waters.

I'm hoping that McClure will see the need to have a few dedicated and seasoned ADBSS volunteers up there to help those development guys from G&F. Why not allow at least one flight a day of four volunteers for at least the first couple of days of the project?

This would surely help get this project done on time, reduce the number of helicopter flights and at the same time minimize the impact on the area.

That's a win-win situation for everyone.

No matter what happens, I know that McClure will have thoroughly researched all the issues and will make a fair decision.

And in the end, hopefully, the bighorn sheep will have a permanent and reliable water source at Tipperary Tank.