The Flood Control District is dedicated to protecting the natural environment of Maricopa County in a way that leaves a lasting, positive legacy. The work we do to mitigate flood hazards today has a direct effect on the quality of life tomorrow. The District attempts to accomplish its flood control mission with consideration for environmental impacts, including the land’s visual quality, wildlife habitat, biological diversity and cultural resources. In fact, many District flood control facilities actually enhance the environment by providing opportunities for multiple uses such as aesthetically pleasing greenbelts, parks, open space, natural desert spaces and pedestrian/biking trails that may be used by future generations.
The District performs assessments of the environmental hazards that may impact a proposed flood control project. A variety of environmental issues are addressed during the phases of a flood control project, from planning through design and construction to operation and maintenance. Illegal dumping on or near flood control facilities, biological hazards, and hazardous materials and asbestos abatement are some of the issues the District routinely handles. For example, structures the District must acquire and dismantle as part of the Floodprone Properties Assistance Program may contain hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead paint. The District tests for the presence of these dangerous materials and follows the proper abatement procedures.
Compliance with Federal Regulations
District projects must comply with federal regulations and guidelines, such as the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act which regulates the filling and dredging of waterways.
Wildlife Habitat Protection, Preservation and Enhancement
Biological assessments of habitat conditions in Area Drainage Master Plan and Watercourse Master Plan study areas are conducted by the District to assess habitat enhancement and preservation possibilities. District staff and consultants may serve as advisors on habitat restoration plans and help select the tree, shrub and grass varieties that will be used.
Where possible the District works to preserve or enhance (restoring whenever possible) the wildlife habitats impacted by our projects. Prior to starting the construction of a flood control facility that requires the removal of native vegetation, the District not only files for appropriate permits, it also invites native plant salvage contractors to remove the vegetation for relocation and use elsewhere. In areas regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the District mitigates for vegetation removed during construction by revegetating on site when possible, or if necessary off site, after construction is complete.
- El Rio Research & Development Project
Salt cedar (tamarisk) is an invasive plant species, covering over 50% of the area within the El Rio Watercourse Master Plan project limits. The District is concerned with the excessive growth of salt cedar in the Gila River for several reasons. Salt cedar grows in dense monocultures. One theory is that the dense growth of salt cedar in the Gila River could affect the water flow, potentially increasing the flood hazard to existing property owners. To validate this theory, more studies need to be done. Another concern with dense, monocultures of salt cedar is the affect on wildlife habitat. While salt cedar provides habitat for wildlife, increasing the plant diversity would improve the habitat. Rehabilitating and restoring the floodplain by planting native species could have dual benefits: Improving the water flow within the river and improving the habitat by increasing the biodiversity of the plants.
The El Rio R&D Project site was originally covered with a dense monoculture of salt cedar. Today the site is planted with native velvet mesquite. The El Rio R&D Project's primary goal is to serve as a demonstration site for larger scale floodplain rehabilitation and restoration projects. One of the District's questions is “do higher planting densities of mesquite prevent salt cedar from recolonizing the site better than lower densities?” This answer is important because plant densities directly correlate with project costs. The El Rio R&D site will help the District answer this and other questions, as well as prioritize and plan future floodplain restoration projects.
- Tall Pot Nursery
An experimental nursery at the District's administrative office has been established in which native trees are being grown in tall tubes instead of in normal shallow nursery containers. Trees grown in this manner have a longer tap root and better root structure, allowing them to survive more easily when planted in sites where no irrigation is available. The trees are being used to revegetate various projects throughout the County. The District is encouraging its commercial growers to also use this growing technique to produce enough trees for future projects.
Western Burrowing Owl Relocation Program
The District has played a role in the preservation of the western burrowing owl population in conjunction with Wild at Heart, a non-profit wildlife rehabilitation/rescue group located in Cave Creek, Arizona. More than 100 burrowing owls have been relocated through this program, such as during the New River Channelization and Laveen Area Conveyance Channel projects. These owls live in burrows they dig into the ground, and the owls are especially fond of burrowing into earthen berms like flood control dams, and along canals and watercourses, the sites of many flood control facilities. Burrowing birds and animals can cause structural weaknesses in earthen dams.
Because of the owls' status as a species of concern, however, before construction begins, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator may be hired to locate and remove any owls and their eggs to a new location so construction may commence. Once construction is completed, an attempt is made to return the owls to an area near their original home and place them into pre-constructed artificial burrows. The owls utilize the artificial burrows instead of digging new ones, helping to prevent damage to the newly constructed flood control facility. More importantly, the owls prey on other small burrowing animals such as mice that might also damage the District's earthen structures. The owls provide a pest control service and reduce the amount of time and money the District maintenance crews need to spend on controlling rodent populations.
Cultural Resource Protection and Preservation
The region encompassed by Maricopa County has a rich history. Numerous prehistoric Hohokam Indian (A.D. 300-1450) sites and other historic sites dating mainly to Arizona's Territorial (1863-1912) and Statehood (1912-1957) periods coexist with the surrounding modern development. When historical artifacts are encountered in and around a District project, the District is dedicated to protecting and preserving these cultural resources while providing necessary flood control projects for the County's 21st-century population.
Early in the initial planning stages of a District flood control project, consultants are hired to confirm the nature and location of archeological sites before the District finalizes the location of the project. In this way the District is able to protect cultural resource sites, avoiding them whenever possible. The District demands that both its staff and professional contractors comply with all state and federal guidelines concerning the investigation, recording, analysis and reporting of all cultural resources occurring in or near a District project.
Prehistoric sites, such as fragile examples of Hohokam habitation sites encountered while doing project survey work, are formally recorded for the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona and tested to determine their value. Newer sites such as the Webster House, a turn-of-the-20th-century house of the original settlers of the community of Laveen, are actively preserved. Tracts of land owned by the District in and around its flood control facilities may also have significant environmental value as well.
Each year, the District makes presentations about its mission and its environmental activities to numerous community organizations, professional associations and school groups. Additionally, District staff members conduct bird, wildlife and habitat monitoring projects with other governmental agencies and professional groups.
Environmental issues are also addressed at public meetings in which County residents have the opportunity to provide District planners, project managers, engineers and other staff members with feedback on District projects.
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