Jan 252012

Photo by David Velk — The Little Colorado River

By Teri Walker —

While potential changes to the economic engine of northeastern Arizona have not yet come to fruition, area natural resource managers are urging elected officials to look ahead to potential impacts on the environ-ment of new–and renewed–regional industries.

The fifth annual Winter Watershed Conference, slated Feb. 1-3 in Show Low, will address the potential eventuality of potash mining development in the Holbrook Basin, and renewing large-scale forest thinning and logging in area forests, and the resulting possible effects on the area’s watershed.

“Public education and outreach about probably the two most important natural resources we have in our area–forestry and potash–is the aim of this conference,” said David Newlin, Watershed Projects director for the Little Colorado River Plateau Resource Conservation and Development Area, which is presenting the conference.

“The water use and the potash needs to be taken a look at, but there’s also an issue with tailings, evapora-tive ponds and flooding,” said Newlin. “I think these things are well under control, but we’ve got to let the public know what we know so they can take a look at it and decide what their concerns are.”

Presenters at the watershed conference include four keynote speakers. Jim Zornes, acting forest supervisor for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, will talk about the forests’ watershed program on Thursday. The Thursday luncheon speaker will be Pat Avery, president of American West Potash.

Thursday evening, David A. Brown will discuss an update of Little Colorado River issues. Petrified For-est National Park Superintendent Brad Traver will present the Friday luncheon keynote address, providing an update on the national park’s expansion plans.

During the two-day conference, Lee Allison, Arizona’s state geologist, is going to talk about potash in Arizona. Kevin Black of the Bureau of Reclamation will address water resources management. Don Bills of the U.S. Geological Survey will make a presentation about the expansion of ground water surveys in the Hol-brook Basin.

Sharon Masek-Lopez of the Northern Arizona University (NAU) Ecological Resource Institute will pre-sent an update on the Four Forest Restoration Initiative, and Wes Swaffer, also of NAU, will make a presen-tation entitled “Watershed Services–Southwestern Watershed Partnership.”

Other speakers include Ed McGavock, a hydrologist, who is making a presentation entitled, “Putting the Water Resources Development Commission’s Report into Context.” Kelly Mott Lacroix of the University of Arizona will discuss integrated water resource management; and Byron James of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality will discuss environmental permitting.

Attendees will participate in workshops involving Rainbow Lake, Bureau of Reclamation, and discussing public information and outreach related to potash mining in the Holbrook Basin.

Newlin encourages public officials across Navajo and Apache counties to attend the conference.

“The toughest place to make decisions about water is at the local level. Fire districts, irrigation districts–all of the special districts in Navajo and Apache County, and there are over 40 of them–are faced with deci-sions about the region’s water resources,” said Newlin. “The information these officials will receive at this conference from this lineup of speakers is invaluable.”

“We want to get as much public education out there as possible, because water and these issues (forestry and potash) affect our part of the world in so many ways,” said Newlin.

The conference will be held at Licano’s Conference Center, located at 573 W. Deuce of Clubs in Show Low.

Registration will be accepted up until the day of the conference, and can be completed online at www.winterwatershedconference.org or by calling (928) 524-2912. E-mails requesting information may be sent to info@littlecolorado.net.