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Study: Benson’s ‘Vigneto’ Could Harm River

A rider leads his mare near the northern reaches of the St. David Cienega. Credit: Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star

By Emily Bregel for Arizona Daily Star

A new study indicates the Vigneto development in Benson will deplete the Cienega’s water levels.

An environmental group has released a study that says a massive development proposed in Benson could deplete water levels under the federally protected St. David Cienega riparian area.

The study’s author points out that the results are preliminary, but he says they prove the development’s potential to impact the important wetland warrants more rigorous study.

The research was commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity, which opposes the 28,000-home Villages at Vigneto project. The development could bring 70,000 more people to Benson — a town of about 5,000 people, 45 miles east of Tucson.

The master planned community would be located northwest of the St. David Cienega, the only marshland left in the San Pedro River’s federally protected conservation area. The Bureau of Land Management calls 57,000-acre San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area one of the most important riparian areas in the country.

The study found that in three of five tested scenarios — which vary by river-water levels and potential variations in underground geology — well pumping at Vigneto lowers the water table beneath the cienega by between 0.8 feet to 1.5 feet within 100 years.

That means Vigneto will most likely infringe on federal water rights protecting the San Pedro conservation area, said Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center of Biological Diversity.

Even though the study is preliminary, it’s an improvement over existing, outdated models of the potential impacts, Silver said.

“At this point, this is now the state-of-the-art, best available science,” he said.

Mike Reinbold, spokesman for developer El Dorado Holdings, declined to respond to emailed questions on the study. And the city of Benson doesn’t employ anyone with the expertise to weigh in on it, said City Clerk Vicki Vivian.

Read more at Arizona Daily Star

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