Water Resources Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement, Mojave National Preserve, San Bernardino County, CA
In accordance with Sec. 102(2)(C) of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, Mojave National Preserve is initiating the conservation planning and environmental impact analysis process needed to inform preparation of a Water Resources Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (WRMP/EIS). This plan is intended to guide future management of ground and surface water sources within Mojave National Preserve. Through this process the National Park Service (NPS) will identify and assess potential impacts of a range of alternatives to management of water resources. As part of the EIS process, the NPS will evaluate different approaches for water resources management to determine the potential impacts on land use, water quality, geology, biological and cultural resources, human health and safety, aesthetics, visitor experience, Wilderness, and other stewardship considerations. Mojave National Preserve (Preserve) is a 1.6 million-acre unit of the National Park System, established by Congress on October 31, 1994, by the California Desert Protection Act. The Act protected a vast expanse of desert lands that represent a combination of Great Basin, Sonoran, and Mojave desert ecosystems. The Act also specified hunting as a permitted activity within the Preserve. By the time of establishment, many artificial water sources had been developed within the Preserve to support cattle grazing operations and game populations. Human manipulation of natural springs and seeps, with intermittent maintenance, enhanced surface flow to provide additional water for the same purposes. There also existed 133 small game wildlife water developments (also known as ``guzzlers'' or ``drinkers''), and 6 big game guzzlers, which intercept and store rainwater for wildlife use. All of the big game guzzlers and many of the small game water developments are in areas of the Preserve which are now designated Wilderness. Since 1998, private donors have purchased and retired approximately 1,260,980 acres of grazing land in the Preserve. As cattle have been removed, watering troughs, windmills, and pipelines were also removed or fell into disrepair. This has led to calls by some hunting proponents to convert abandoned wells to game guzzlers. Conversely, wildlife advocates have cited guzzler-related injuries to bighorn sheep, protected desert tortoises, and other wildlife species as a rationale for reducing the number of water developments. Since 1994, the NPS has managed water sources in the Preserve on a case-by-case basis, while conducting inventories and studies to develop the information needed for an ecosystem-scale management approach. The Preserve's general management plan (GMP) identified the need to develop a comprehensive ecosystem-scale Water Resources Management Plan for springs, seeps, water diversions, and artificial water sources to maintain healthy wildlife communities and groundwater flow conditions at safe yieldsthis conservation planning effort seeks to fulfill that objective. Desired future condition goals will be developed through public engagement with hunting groups, environmental organizations, park visitors, local, state and Federal agencies, and other interested parties, in keeping with existing laws, regulations, and NPS management policies. Surface water availability in the form of springs and seeps is a function of groundwater flow and discharge. The relationship between groundwater, surface water, and wells is complex. Preserve stewardship and resource management activities must be guided by general principles that can be applied to specific problems. Developing and clearly explaining how these principles should be applied is a goal of the Draft WRMP/EIS. The relationship between surface water availability and wildlife populations is also multifaceted, and may be complicated by the potential effects of climate change. The Draft WRMP/EIS will provide the basis for preserving wildlife and preventing resource impairment.