The Sulphur Springs Valley in Cochise County, southeastern Arizona is remote, stark, and arid. It is also a critical migration and wintering area for sandhill cranes, waterfowl, and shorebirds. Seasonal wetland habitat is extremely limited in the region. However, the few wetlands that do exist are particularly important, not only for sandhill cranes, waterfowl, and shorebirds, but also for a variety of raptors, amphibians, and reptiles.

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area (WDWA) is located in the Sulphur Springs Valley. It consists of 1,528 acres and is owned and managed by Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD). WDWA is one of three major wintering sites for sandhill cranes in southeastern Arizona. Together WDWA, AGFD's Willcox Playa Wildlife Area, and Arizona Electric Power Cooperative's (AEPCO's) Apache Station Wetlands support an average wintering population of about 22,000 sandhill cranes in the Sulphur Springs Valley. WDWA also supports thousands of migrating and wintering waterfowl.

Desert land for the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area restoration project

Water control is essential in the desert.


The existing wetlands at WDWA are degraded due to past agricultural practices. In addition, the existing water delivery systems are inefficient or inoperable. AGFD has identified restoration of seasonal wetlands and renovation of water delivery systems as top priorities for WDWA.


Ducks Unlimited, Inc. (DU), AGFD, and several other partners recently completed the WDWA Wetland Restoration Project. This project acquired or restored 120 acres of palustrine emergent wetlands and associated uplands that will provide important migration and wintering habitat for the area's sandhill cranes, waterfowl, and shorebirds. The total funding for the project was over $240,000. It included $50,000 in funding that was provided by a North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) small grant. DU's partners for the WDWA Wetland Restoration Project include NAWCA, AGFD, Western Gamebird Alliance, Wings Over Willcox, AEPCO, and the Sonoran Joint Venture.


A moist soil management unit for WDWA

A moist soil management unit.

The project included an 80-acre acquisition at WDWA. AGFD purchased these wetlands and associated uplands to protect the existing habitats and allow for future restoration of additional wetlands that have been lost to agricultural conversion. The remainder of the project consisted of restoring 40 acres of seasonal wetlands in an agricultural area. Restoration work included recontouring the land, constructing levees, installing water control structures, and renovating the water conveyance system. This increased the wetland acreage for migrating and wintering waterfowl, shorebirds, sandhill cranes, and other waterbirds. It also improved water conveyance and control capabilities thereby increasing the efficiency of water use and allowing better habitat management. Thanks to the WDWA Wetland Restoration Project, sandhill cranes, waterfowl, and shorebirds will find better habitat conditions when they arrive in the Sulphur Springs Valley this fall.