Technology for the Tribe
Excerpt from an article in the Tucson Citizen
“The Pimas and Maricopas have been, until recently, a self-sustaining nation. They raise their crops of grain and corn with a skill equal to that of the whites. The settlers, seeing the results which the Indians have produced… brought under cultivation much land in the valley of the Gila, adjacent to this reservation, and have built extensive canals… Under the provision of the United States law, all land bought under the desert land act, must be made productive by the application of water. In order to comply with the provisions of this law, the settlers were compelled to make diversions from the Gila River at points above the Indian reservation… These diversions by the whites quickly deprived the Indians of their water supply, and for the past five years they have been left on the desert without water for their crops and scarcely enough for their horses. They are put in the position of either having to steal, starve or be fed as public wards... Numerous court decisions have been rendered establishing beyond controversy the fact that the Indian has the prior and the better right to the water.”
Excerpt from an article in the Los Angeles Times
“For hundreds of years the Pimas lived in plenty, irrigating their fields from the waters of the Gila until the white man came and diverted its waters onto other areas. At the time of the Gadsden Purchase, Lieutenant Michler of the Boundary Commission said of these Indians in his official report, dated way back in 1856: ‘Besides being great warriors, they are good husbandmen and farmers and work laboriously in the field. They are owners of fine horses and mules, fat oxen and milk cows, pigs and poultry and are a wealthy class of Indians. The Pimas consider themselves regular descendants of the Aztecs. As we journeyed along the valley we found lands fenced and irrigated and rich lands of wheat ripening for the harvest, a view differing from anything we had seen since leaving the Atlantic States. They grow cotton, sugar, peas, wheat and corn. As I sat upon a rock,’ continues Lieutenant Michler, ‘admiring the scene, an old gray-headed Pima took pleasure in pointing out the extent of their domain. They are anxious to know if their rights and titles to their lands would be respected by our government, upon hearing that their country had become part of the United States.’”
Excerpt from an article in the Chicago Tribune
It is a story that begins almost 2,000 years ago when the ancestors of the Akimel O’otham were applying floodwater irrigation techniques to the Pimeria Alta region in what is now southwest Arizona, an area where many Jesuit missions were established in old northwestern New Spain. It is a story that continues today as the Pima-Maricopa Irrigation Project is bringing much more than just water back to their ancestral homeland.
The Pima-Maricopa Irrigation Project is a federally funded restoration program for the Gila River Indian Community, a 583 square mile reservation that shares common borders of Phoenix and Chandler, Ariz., which is home to more than 29,000 tribal members. The history of the reservation, like many others, is full of promises, good intentions and the slow realization of correcting past wrongs. In this case, the wrong that is being made right is the return of ample amounts of water through a modern delivery system that will minimize attrition and maximize the yield of the community’s varied crops of forage, grains, vegetables and fruits.
The placement and construction of the canals relies on Encinas’ three field surveying crews, each one anchored by a Gila River Community member as crew chief. “Two of my chiefs worked on survey crews for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The third was promoted based on his work as a crew member,” Encinas says. Each crew has one instrument man, two of whom are community members. Seven survey aides (equivalent to rod persons) and one intern complete the crews. The seven aides, five of which are Gila River Community members are currently circulated among the three crews, creating two four-person crews and one five-person crew. The intern floats between the crews when needed.
For the vast majority of the surveying and layout work, the crews use GPS RTK. “From time to time we’ll use a total station, but with the large areas we have to cover and with the relative lack of experience we initially had on the crews, GPS seemed [to be] the best option,” Encinas says.
It’s not unusual for the crew to stake alignments over six miles long. With conventional total stations, Encinas says an alignment that long could take two to three weeks to stake. “With GPS we do it in four to five days,” he reports. Given that they have more than 2,400 total miles to eventually lay out, productivity is a primary objective.”
The Gila River crews currently use Topcon GPS+ RTK systems (Topcon, Pleasanton, Calif.). Two rover systems are available, both configured with GPS and GLONASS capability. “Because almost all of our work is between two north-to-south mountain ranges, our east and west horizons are diminished,” Encinas says. “The additional GLONASS satellites have enabled us to keep working when we would not have had enough satellites from GPS alone.”
Encinas said that the RTK GPS systems provided an added advantage he had not considered—they allow his crews greater relief from the scorching desert sun. “Our Topcon system has very fast acquisition and it maintains tracking in virtually all conditions. This allows us to go from the truck, get the points and get back out of the heat faster than I thought possible. In an area where 120 degree air temperature is not unusual, that’s a big advantage,” Encinas says. But he said the thing that really makes him realize he made the right decision was just how easy the GPS system is to use. “In our situation, the key to productivity is learning… and learning fast. The combination of Topcon’s equipment and the excellent support supplied by their distributor, Holman’s (Albuquerque, N.M.), has made our crews productive almost from day one.”
“Our crews are being exposed to the leading edge of survey technology. Should our project become delayed, these people will have the skills and experience to quickly move into the private sector,” Encinas says.
To further expand their abilities and increase productivity, laptop computers running Land Development Desktop (Autodesk Inc., San Rafael, Calif.) are available for each crew. “We can download data while we’re in the field, do a quick QC to spot any potential spikes and get the error corrected while we’re there,” Encinas says.
All told, crop acreage will rise from 30,000 acres before the project began to more than 146,000 acres at full buildout. But to Carlos Encinas and the entire Gila River Indian Community the true yield from the project is being measured in the skills and technological advancements that will still be paying benefits 103 years from now.