Mar 20, 2021 - Jun 2, 2021
This spring was spent in southeast Arizona, where we have been since the end of March 2020. We had a surprising number of phainopepla and a large wave of western tanagers in the valley, but neither made it into this year's album. Lots of lizards, but few desert spiny lizards. The saguaro bloom didn't seem like it was going to happen before we left, but then burst into one of the biggest blooms many people have seen. In many ways, though, it felt like a sleepy spring.
We left Cascabel and began traveling north after Memorial Day, hoping to beat the heat. That hasn't worked out so well...
Waiting for Water?
Winter in southeast Arizona produced very little precipitation this past year, and spring did not help. There was no super bloom, there wasn't even a mini bloom. A couple of California poppies here and there, maybe a four o'clock. Other than irrigated gardens, there was little for the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to find until the cottonwoods and mesquite began to bloom, drawing water from deep underground and providing sustenance in their little nectar flutes.
Many annuals that are usually knee to waist high by May didn't even make an attempt. They'll wait to see if the summer monsoons arrive in abundance, as so many hope, or peter out again, as so many fear. At least some rain is already beginning to appear in early July.
The waterhole on our new property that lasted into June last year was sucked dry by rogue cattle from downriver by February. Wildlife that used that water last year had to look elsewhere.
The saguaro cactus that are the icons for this part of the desert appeared to be stressed as well. Some gave up and dropped their limbs and some just fell over. The saguaro bloom this year ended up being phenomenal, to the extent that the blooms were popping out down the sides of the massive trunks and arms (an unusual occurrence for saguaro, but not other columnar cactus). Another sign of stress?
The lack of water is from a confluence of different cycles, the main one being a neutral year in the El Niño / La Niña cycle in the Pacific Ocean. Combining that with a twenty-year drought, and general trends towards drier and hotter, created a very tough year for all living in the Middle San Pedro Valley, as well as all of the Southwest.
Hopefully, the land purchases we have made this year will help keep the stress on subsurface water from increasing due to our presence. We are combining two well-share allotments and mostly maintaining the current minimal use of another well. Overall demand in the area will likely continue to rise, but we can do our part. I can say we know way more about water rights, and the surrounding issues, than we ever did before. Possibly more than many people in the area, unless they have been involved in a Gila River Adjudication case. Something we get to look forward to, apparently.
The irony about the Gila River Adjudication is that it was intended to make sure that the Gila River continues to flow and that water rights owners downriver will continue to have access. Unfortunately, it created a "use it or lose it" system that encourages large users to maintain, or even increase, their overall usage, such as by switching to growing alfalfa, a very water consumptive crop for the area. Just another example of unintended consequences when trying to "do the right thing".
The thing about life in this desert is that it knows how to deal with lulls in available water. So much of it can just wait until it returns. Individuals will be lost, but the system is resilient.
Of course, that assumes that the water will eventually return...