The Verde River Basin Partnership provides science-based, educational outreach to engage and help empower people to protect the unique and vital water resources of Verde River Basin.

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Latest Spring 2016-Currents-Newsletter-VRBP

In this issue of the Verde Watershed Currents, we discuss the connections between water and land use planning, and how communities can use those connections to get the future they want. Also, you'll get to learn about the acrobatic and dapper black phoebe, how winter has left us quite dry, the weather outlook for the spring, and the release of our Verde River Basin Water-Resources Primer. Read the Currents now.

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A river flowing year-round through dry country is of great value to the people, wildlife, and plant life that the river sustains. Not many of the once-perennial rivers of the desert southwest still flow year-round, but the Verde River is one of the few that remain, making it a true treasure that is considered unique by people around the world.

Sadly, the year-round flow of the Verde River and its flowing tributaries won’t survive over the long run without substantial change in how we manage our water resources within the Verde River Basin.

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  1. What is the Verde River Basin?
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    The Verde River Basin is an important, life-sustaining watershed. Located in central Arizona, the 6,230-square-mile basin is one of the most beautiful and diversified watersheds in Southwestern United States.  On its western edge, the watershed includes Seligman, Prescott, and portions of Scottsdale. On the eastern edge, it reaches the Flagstaff city boundaries and stretches south to Payson and beyond. Click here to view a map of the watershed.

    With headwaters in northwest Yavapai County, the Verde River – the basin’s master watercourse – provides a lush corridor from Paulden, just north of Chino Valley, to the Horseshoe Reservoir, just north of Phoenix. Along the way, it passes through the communities of Clarkdale, Cottonwood, and Camp Verde.

    The Verde River is one of the very few remaining perennial rivers in Arizona. It runs relatively freely from its source near Paulden to Horseshoe Reservoir for 137 river miles. Still in 2006, American Rivers listed the Verde River, as one of the 10 most endangered rivers in America because of extensive groundwater pumping from development. Additionally, the river is the lifeblood of both the agricultural and rural/suburban lifestyle in the Verde Valley; consequently, flows are reduced – especially in summer, due to withdrawals by 42 ditch companies on the river and tributaries. The Verde supplies approximately 40 percent of the surface water that Salt River Project delivers annually to Phoenix-area residents and cities and towns for irrigation and municipal uses.

  2. Are groundwater and surface water connected?

    Yes. Nearly all surface water features interact with groundwater. Surface water bodies can gain water from groundwater, or are a source of recharge to groundwater. As a result, withdrawal of water from streams and rivers can deplete groundwater or conversely, the pumping of groundwater can deplete water in streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, and springs.

  3. Is the Verde River at risk and why?

    Water flowing in the Verde River comes from 1) surface runoff from rain and snowmelt and 2) groundwater that springs and seeps release into the river and its perennial tributaries. If the river had to rely on rain and snowmelt runoff alone, it would be dry much of the year. This vital groundwater supplies about half the Verde River’s annual stream flow; it alone maintains the river’s year-round flow. Without it, the river would flow only after periods of rain or snowmelt; its channel would be dry most of the year. Over-pumping of groundwater elsewhere in Arizona has dried up numerous other rivers that once carried water year round. http://vrbp.org/watershed-issues/the-verde-river-a-desert-treasure-at-risk/

    Prior to concentrated human settlement with wells and other water infrastructure, the interconnected system of groundwater and surface water was balanced with the quantity of water seeping into aquifers and the amount of water seeping out through springs and into streams. Wells disrupt that long-term natural balance since pumping of wells can intercept groundwater that was en route to springs and streams. Pumping also can deplete groundwater beneath the riverbed, although distant from the wells, causing water to flow away from the river into the groundwater.

    The movement of groundwater is much slower than the movement of water flowing on the surface; thus the effect on stream flow from the pumping of groundwater doesn’t show up immediately. But, inevitably and eventually, the component of groundwater that contributes to stream flow is reduced by an amount nearly equal to the consumption of water pumped from wells.

    Substantial groundwater pumping in the Verde River basin began in the late 1930’s, mainly for irrigation. Today, groundwater pumped from thousands of wells in the basin provides essentially all the water for human usage: drinking, cooking, washing, toilet flushing, landscaping, industrial and municipal uses, and still some agricultural irrigation. A significant exception is that nearly all agricultural irrigation in the Verde Valley is supplied by water diverted directly from the Verde River and its perennial tributaries.

    The unavoidable effect is that as the growing population continues to use groundwater, the Verde River, or at least substantial parts of it, will become another Arizona dry wash flowing only briefly in response to storms or snowmelt.

    Since Verde Valley residents and businesses rely almost entirely on groundwater for domestic water needs, the long-term existence of the basin’s water resources is at risk due to increased groundwater pumping, a high dependence on groundwater, the potential development of the vast amount of private land currently undeveloped, Arizona water laws that do not adequately protect surface water, and the lack of regional water planning.

    http://www.law.arizona.edu/blp/documents/Marder-Note.pdf

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