Just as the Colorado River is the hardest working river in the West, the Verde may be the hardest working river in Arizona. The almost 200-mile long Verde flows through wilderness and forest lands where it provides habitat for bald eagles, otters and beavers. The river flows around old mine workings and ancient Sinagua Indian sites. It passes through farmlands where in some places almost all the water is diverted out of the river, and through communities where groundwater pumping reduces river flow. The river also flows through tribal lands, enters a 40-mile stretch designated as Wild and Scenic, and then is held behind two dams where water is taken out to supply Phoenix, the sixth-most populous city in the U.S. Yet despite the many demands on this river, one of the largest in Arizona, the Verde River is relatively little known and underappreciated.
Understanding of the importance of the Verde River is starting to grow as Verde River communities, who value the River as critical to their heritage and quality of life, recognize its role as a driver of economic development. The Verde River is a base for geo-tourism—attracting birders, kayakers and others seeking cool water and respite in the desert.
Western Resource Advocates is committed to protecting the Verde River to ensure healthy river flows for years to come. The Verde River is threatened by increasing water demand from population growth, well pumping, continuing diversions of water out of the river, and climate change. This is impacting native fish and habitat, including one of the last remaining cottonwood-willow forests in Arizona and the unique birds and wildlife that depend on it.
For the past four years, I’ve worked with communities and partners in the Verde River watershed to advance conservation and water resource planning to help protect the River. I’ve experienced its stunning ecosystem (including seeing my first-ever Arizona river otter) and the passion of people who love the Verde and are working hard to protect it. In the watershed we submitted comments that influenced the State’s new management plan for the Prescott area, presented at community forums about the value of water conservation and reuse, worked with partners on community water resource plans, and met with elected officials and community leaders to advance water conservation as a way to reduce impacts to the River and build a more resilient water future.
In the last two years, I’ve been fortunate to work with the town of Camp Verde, a beautiful historic community with a rich agricultural heritage. Camp Verde residents recognize the value of the Verde River. Last year the Camp Verde Council accepted a Western Resource Advocates report that contained recommended water conservation, water reuse, and water management strategies for the town. Many of our recommendations have now been incorporated into the Water Resource Element of Camp Verde’s Comprehensive Plan—a plan that guides how the town will grow and develop. Our draft Water Resource Element was reviewed and revised by an engaged and committed advisory group and Planning and Zoning Commission. The Water Resource Element, when approved by the Town Council, will guide water policy development for the next ten years and will form the foundation of a strong and sustainable water future.
Western Resource Advocates has also embarked on a study to identify and characterize the water use by wells in the Verde Valley that are withdrawing groundwater that decreases river flow. The new study will identify the best strategies to reduce groundwater pumping. We will complete this study by year’s end and hope to offer a future water conservation program to help these well owners use water more efficiently, reducing their pumping costs and impacts on the Verde River.
Keeping the Verde healthy will take continued commitment by local water users and environmental organizations to implement changes to the way water is managed. This in turn will require support from the Arizona Department of Water Resources. Water conservation, water reuse, agricultural irrigation, water efficiency, reductions in near-stream water pumping, and water policy changes are needed to keep the Verde River healthy and flowing.