The Ausable River Association’s East Branch restoration project is coming to the town of Keene thanks to a share of a $2 million federal earmark.
Speaking at AsRA’s annual ‘friendraiser,’ Executive Director Kelley Tucker said restoration efforts to this point have been focused on the section of the river between the hamlets of Upper Jay and Au Sable Forks.
In that stretch, AsRA has identified 13 trouble spots that need repair — one has been completed, another is scheduled for this summer and two more are on the runway. But a portion of a $2 million grant earmarked by Rep. Elise Stefanik will extend the study area upriver to Keene.
Gary Henry, AsRA’s stream restoration manager said he hopes that by next summer he’ll be wading the river between Keene and Upper Jay, taking measurements and analyzing the riverbed.
Unlike the West Branch, a renowned trout stream and tourist draw, the East Branch is wide and shallow, a man-assisted architecture that, when flooded, facilitates the flow of logs to the mills, but is not friendly to ecological habitat.
The slow-moving river is also prone to ice jams that cause serious downstream flooding. Stream restoration includes narrowing the channel and building riverbank shoulders better adapted to handling floodwater.
Tucker said AsRA is also in the running for a state-sponsored $1.6 million America the Beautiful grant that would complete engineering studies on the original projects that have yet to be funded. Henry said projects that have been engineered and are ready to go are more likely to get construction grants.
The business of water rights
Unsettled by dwindling water projections, the State of Arizona recently tightened homebuilding regulations in suburban Phoenix, which continues to grow despite concerns about the water supply.
But these communities, potentially shut off from tapping into the groundwater, have identified a workaround — buying water from upstream farms hundreds of miles away that have been granted water rights in perpetuity.
For example, according to Bloomberg, Greenstone, a water-investment firm owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., purchased a farm in 2013 for $9 million. Five years later, the Phoenix-area town of Queen’s Creek purchased some of the farm’s water rights for $21 million.
“The deal met with howls from people who saw it as rewarding ‘drought profiteers,’” Bloomberg wrote. The case is in the courts, but a judge has allowed the deal to go through while it’s adjudicated, meaning water could begin to arrive in Queens Creek in July.
Photo at top: Carrianne Pershyn, Biodiversity Research Manager at AsRA, hunts for aquatic insects prior to the organization’s annual ‘friend raiser’ meeting in Keene.
Editor’s note: Tim Rowland is taking over “Water Line” while Zach Matson is on family leave. Sign up for this free, weekly newsletter here.