As part of our upcoming new exhibit, A Drop of Water, we had the opportunity to visit some local ranches to see how they are improving habitat through brush management programs. These areas were historically grassland and have been encroached upon by woody species such as juniper and pinyon pine. Restoring the land to a grassland ecosystem helps pronghorn antelope habitat, increases forage for elk and cattle, and helps build healthy soils and grasses that gets more water into the ground.
Because of the positive benefits for wildlife, this work is supported by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and coordinated through the Natural Resource Conservation Service. For our first day of filming we visited the Bar-T-Bar ranch south of Meteor Crater and interviewed ranch owner Judy Prosser, Steve Cassady with AZGFD and Harry Hosler – a soil scientist with the NRCS (pictured above).
We caught up with the equipment operator, Rob Columbini, at the Babbitt Ranches east of Red Mountain. After clearing an area, the mulched brush left behind provides an environment favorable to increased growth of grasses and forbs. Grasses were already starting to poke up through the mulch just about one month after he had worked through the area.
This topic is just the first part of the exhibit which will focus on following a hypothetical path of a drop water. Additional interpretive panels will cover water infiltration through the soil and rock; the regional aquifer stored primarily in the Coconino Sandstone (C-aquifer); the energy cost of pumping water from a deep aquifer; and the municipal treatment and distribution system. By illustrating the long and unlikely journey of a drop of water falling from the sky, reaching the aquifer, and flowing to our faucets, our aim is to help our visitors and school children understand how precious our water is and to think wisely about how to conserve this limited resource.
In addition to the organizations and people mentioned above, we appreciate the support of a W.L. Gore STEM grant, a grant from the Flagstaff Community Foundation, and individual contributions from the Friends of Willow Bend.