On Saturday, June 18th, 2005, a long-fought battle came to an end as Arizona Public Service Company (APS) officially decommissioned two small hydroelectric power plants and returned the flows of Fossil Creek to the streambed. For nearly 100 years, the water was diverted from just ½-mile below the headwater springs into a 14-mile flume that left the stream just a trickle during the driest times of the year.
Only after several years of intense public pressure, legal notices, and protracted negotiations did APS determine to decommission the environmentally destructive Irving and Childs power plants. The Yavapai-Apache Nation, American Rivers, Arizona Riparian Council, Center for Biological Diversity, The Nature Conservancy, and Northern Arizona Audubon Society were signatories to a Settlement Agreement with APS finalized in 2000. Through the National Environmental Policy Act process, agencies, environmental groups and individuals were able to exchange ideas and scientific information that culminated in this unprecedented event.
In Fall of 2004, over a hundred biologists and volunteers worked together to salvage the native fish in Fossil Creek—which harbors the best assemblage of native fish in the state. Roundtail chub, headwater chub, speckled dace, longfin dace, Sonoran sucker, and desert sucker no longer have to compete with or be preyed upon by exotic fish species. Since that time, further restoration and reintroduction activities have successfully stocked Gila topminnow, loach minnow, spikedace and razorback sucker to their historic home.
During Spring of 2009, Fossil Creek was designated by Congress as a Wild and Scenic River. Within two years of that designation, the U.S. Forest Service is mandated to implement a management plan to protect the outstanding resource values for which the creek was designated. Arizona Rivers believes this management plan should limit off-trail abuses, provide for necessary sanitation, reduce visitor conflicts, and increase visitor education opportunities.
In the meantime, the trash, graffiti and careless recreation activities need to be reigned in through appropriate enforcement and education by Forest Service and local law officers. The public can help as well by taking a trash bag with them when they visit Fossil Creek, staying on trails (no bushwhacking!), and gently reminding other visitors to do the same.
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