More on the Verde River Issue

The Verde headwaters form at Sullivan Lake in Yavapai County. The Big Chino Valley Aquifer is fed by Big Chino Wash, Williamson Valley Wash and just downstream Granite Creek enters in after draining the northwestern edge of the Bradshaw range. The Verde flows in a mostly southerly direction for 175 miles before its confluence into the Salt River just northeast of Phoenix.

The reach of river from Sullivan Lake down to the point where the first Sycamore Creek (there are three different ones that do) enters on river left (looking downstream), the Verde is a gentle stream nestled into a canyon the river has carved out over the millennia. The riverbed gradient is slight here and the riverbanks soak in and store water thus providing a lush riparian growth from canyon wall to wall. The normal river base flow in this reach of river averages 26 cubic feet per second (CFS) and could be more adequately described as a creek. The river does flash here due mostly to heavy seasonal rains that swell normally dry washes in the upstream watersheds. Most of the Upper Verde region snowmelt that would account for higher springtime flows is generally held by reservoirs for agricultural use in the upstream tributaries and does not reach the river. Necessary to maintain the ecological health of the Verde, this seasonal fluctuation of flow between base and flood stage maintains a natural diversity and balance that establishes the thriving ecosystem found here. Indeed, the native flora and fauna have evolved in ways that take advantage of this constant state of change. Our Verde River is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the Americas and maintaining the water in the river is the most important key into this magical place.

As water flows down a river, there are always people who want to divert that water for other uses. The Verde is no exception and its flow has a lot of pressure to tap into it. The upstream communities, developers, and wildcat sub dividers are drilling into the Big Chino aquifer at a staggering pace. The cities of Prescott, Prescott Valley, and late-comer Chino Valley have plans on the table to pipe the Verde aquifer water over the hill and into their own communities. That unregulated tapping of groundwater at the headwaters threatens the Verde River base flow and that has the many downstream surface water rights holders screaming foul. Caught in the middle of this squabble over how to divvy up all the water is the concept of a wild and free-flowing river.

A stakeholders group has formed to protect the interest of the upstream water users. The Upper Verde River Watershed Protection Coalition, better known simply as the “coalition” is made up of the cities and towns, developers, tribes, elected officials and other water users. A visit to their website at will sum up their intentions rather quickly. Right up front and center the group states their mission as, “…protection of base flow of the Verde River to the maximum possible extent and achieving safe yield within the Prescott Active Management Area (AMA)”. The wiggle in those words are proven when coalition member and Yavapai County Supervisor Carol Springer indicates that she totally supports maintaining base flows into the Middle Verde Valley and that the proposed tapping into the Big Chino will not reduce those flows more than 5-10%. Let us uncloak her rhetoric and look at what she is truly saying. The Middle Verde, Clarkdale down through Camp Verde, maintains a base flow that averages 70CFS prior to irrigation diversions. If we remove 10% or 7CFS from the Middle Verde flow, that same 7CFS now gone from the Upper Verde base flow represents a whopping 35% reduction in base flow there. Further compounding this political wiggle is the presence of sound hydrological studies proving the water extractions from the Big Chino as proposed by the pipeline advocates will result in an even greater base flow loss from the Upper Verde. Members of the “coalition” or “coalition to protect the pipeline” as it is more commonly referred to by local enviro types, has also played a hand in a focused piece of AMA-exemption legislation that is providing them the opportunity to access the Big Chino aquifer. This is special interest activity at its worst and the Verde River is the big loser.

The Verde has supporters, one friend is The Citizens Water Advocacy Group (CWAG), a non-profit organization formed to protect the Verde flow. They state the problem simply as, “a water crisis looms for the incorporated communities of Prescott, Chino Valley, and Prescott Valley---the so called Tri-Cities---and the unincorporated areas within the upper Verde watershed. This crisis stems from exploding population growth and inadequate regulation of ground water use”. The group was group formed 5 years back and has been working for a safe-yield on the Big Chino aquifer that ensures an adequate base flow on the upper Verde.

The need to protect the upper Verde River has long been at the fore-front efforts of Arizona’s most respected land-trust group, The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Partnering with the state wildlife agency, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, TNC had negotiated the acquisition of critically important lands at the river headwaters. These once private in-holdings were recently purchased by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission from TNC and are lands now held in public trust. Funding for the acquisition was provided by the Arizona Heritage Fund and The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. It is hoped that as other strategically located private lands become available, funding will be adequate to set them aside from the developer’s blade.

The Gila River

system alone will disturb and destroy large tracts of pristine National Forest Lands. The newly flooded lake basin will render miles of prime stream riparian areas worthless to all wildlife that currently utilize that section of Mangas Creek. The proposed right to take 14,000 acre feet annually from the Gila River drainage would have serious negative impacts to the downstream river system. These impacts would affect natural occurring scouring action of flood events which would pose a serious threat to riverine health. The wildlife resource found in the downstream river system would also have negative impacts if this facility is brought on line. The New Mexico series of diversions have not been constructed at this time and pressure opposing this project is appropriate.