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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the questions we are often asked and our replies to them. Please click on a question to see the reply.
If you don’t see your question, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

What is the Verde River Basin?
What are the major tributaries of the Verde River?
What are surface waters and groundwater?
Are groundwater and surface water connected?
What is subflow?
What are the Arizona laws regarding groundwater and surface water?
Where does our drinking and household water come from?
Have well water depths changed in the past decades?
Where does our irrigation water come from?

Why does our water cost so much?
What happens to water of the Verde River system?
Why does our water go to Phoenix?
Is there is a problem with water shortage because can’t we bring water in from somewhere else?

What is meant by adequate water supply?
What is an Active Management Area and do I live in one?
How do the terms “assured water supply” and “adequate water supply” relate to areas inside and outside of Active Management Areas (AMAs)?
Why are computer models important water management tools for sustainable water supplies?
How can climate change impact our water?
What are the sensitive and endangered species found in the Verde River basin?
Is the Verde River at risk and why? 
 
Are there many perennial rivers in Arizona?  

Can a river really dry up?
What can we do?

What is the Verde River Basin?

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.

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What are the major tributaries of the Verde River?

Perennial streams are located throughout most of the basin and include the Verde River, Oak Creek, Fossil Creek, East Verde Creek, West Clear Creek, Beaver Creek, and Sycamore Creek.  These streams are perennial for all or most of their length. Intermittent streams are found throughout the basin except for the northwestern portion of the basin.

The Verde flows through three distinct areas, Upper, Middle, and Lower Verde, each of which give distinctive characteristics to the course. In the Upper Verde, the flow is through steep-walled canyons receiving water from Granite Creek until it reaches the ranching community of Perkinsville. The river continues past the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness to take in water from Sycamore Creek as it flows into the Verde Valley. In the valley, where the terrain widens and the majority of the population resides, the Middle Verde segment takes in water from Oak Creek, West Clear Creek, and Beaver Creek. Below Camp Verde as it flows through the Lower Verde area, waters from Fossil Creek and East Verde River join the Verde, the latter in the Mazatzal Wilderness. After flowing through the Horseshoe and Bartlett Reservoirs, the Verde ends its journey at the confluence with the Salt River.

In addition to tributaries, there are, or have been springs with water flowing into the river system. There are 102 major springs with a measured discharge of 10 gallons per minute (gpm) or greater at any time, the largest number reported in any groundwater basin in Arizona. The largest discharge rate of 21,647 gpm was measured at Fossil Creek spring. The total number of springs, regardless of discharge, identified by the USGS varies from 493 to 571, depending on the database reference.

http://www.azwater.gov/AzDWR/StatewidePlanning/WaterAtlas/CentralHighlands/Springs/VerdeRiver.htm

The headwaters of the Verde River start as major springs along the Upper Verde River Canyon above Paulden. Del Rio Springs in Chino Valley has just a fourth of its original flow due to up-gradient groundwater pumping. ADWR groundwater models estimate it will be dry by 2025. In the Middle Verde, spring flows from Pecks Lake and Tavasci Marsh join the river. The once-flowing Haskell Springs now serves as a municipal water source for Cottonwood.  Another significant spring flow is the headwaters of Fossil Creek.

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What are surface waters and groundwater?

Groundwater occurs almost everywhere beneath the land surface. In general, water beneath the land surface occurs in two principal zones, the unsaturated zone and the saturated zone. The unsaturated zone occurs immediately beneath the land surface. In the unsaturated zone the spaces between particle grains and cracks in rocks contain both air and water. Below this zone is the saturated zone. In the saturated zone the spaces between particle grains and cracks in rocks are filled with water. The use of the term “groundwater” refers to the saturated zone. The top of the saturated zone is referred to as the groundwater table or simply the water table.

Surface water is typically water that can be seen flowing on the surface of the ground. It is characterized by streams and rivers, lakes, wetlands or estuaries, and springs. Although springs are considered to be a form of surface water, water issuing from a spring is groundwater and springs exist where the land surface intersects the groundwater table. http://www.nvwra.org/storage/2013/conf_presentations/annualconf/presRonstadt.pdf

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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.

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What is subflow?

The word “subflow”, as used in reference to water, has its origins in legal history, not in hydrology. In a legal decision in 1931, the Arizona Supreme Court defined “subflow” as “those waters which slowly find their way through the sand and gravel constituting the bed of the stream, or the lands under or immediately adjacent to the stream and are themselves a part of the surface stream”.  The Court defined the test of appropriability (which the ability to be appropriated, in this case though water rights by the State of Arizona) by posing a question about the “subflow”. The question was, “does drawing off the subsurface water tend to diminish appreciably and directly the flow to the surface stream?” If the answer is yes, the water is appropriable “subflow.”  http://www.nvwra.org/storage/2013/conf_presentations/annualconf/presRonstadt.pdf

In further discussion, the Court defined the “subflow” as the water contained within the “saturated floodplain Holocene alluvium,” the geologic formation consisting of sand, gravel and loose rock deposited in the river’s floodplain over the last 10,000 years. http://verdenews.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=1&ArticleID=41610.

The importance of the decision is that subflow of a stream is treated like surface water in state law. To use subflow, the party must hold the surface water right. There are over 7,000 residential wells in the Verde Valley, most of which are pumping in or near the subflow zone of the Verde River and tributaries.  In 2010, the Arizona Geological Survey produced maps and a report demarcating the floodplain Holocene alluvium deposits along the Verde and its tributaries. This information will be used by the state in the water rights adjudication process.

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What are the Arizona laws regarding groundwater and surface water?

In general, surface water is subject to the doctrine of prior appropriation and beneficial use. Prior appropriation essentially means that any withdrawal from the stream is governed by the concept “first in time first in right.” The regulation is based on the use of rivers and streams by gold miners during the California gold rush of 1849 and not on a “best use” or most beneficial use of the water concept. A surface water right is appurtenant (attached) to a specific parcel of land. It is limited by the total quantity of the right based on the beneficial use, and actual availability of the water, i.e., priority of the right.

Groundwater regulation in Arizona varies from almost no control in some areas to some, but limited control in others. In general, Arizona partially but not entirely regulates groundwater use in five Active Management Areas (AMAs) where groundwater overdraft is severe and in three Irrigation Non-Expansion Areas (INAs) where the groundwater overdraft problem is considered to be less severe. The five AMAs are the Prescott, Phoenix, Pinal, Tucson, and Santa Cruz AMAs. The INAs are in rural farming areas at Douglas, Joseph City, and in the Harquahala Valley. There is essentially no regulation in the remaining areas of the state. In these areas, a land owner has the right to withdraw any amount of water subject to reasonable use.

In general, Arizona law does not recognize the fact that groundwater and surface water are interconnected, and from a legal standpoint, Arizona essentially manages them as two separate resources. Because groundwater can deplete stream flow by capturing water that otherwise would have ended up in the stream, it is possible for groundwater to be legally withdrawn while at the same time the withdrawal is affecting a legal use of surface water. http://nationalaglawcenter.org/assets/bibarticles/glennonmaddock_subflow.pdf

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Where does our drinking and household water come from? 

Domestic water for household, business, yards, livestock, etc., in the Verde River basin mainly comes from wells, some of which are drilled close to the Verde River. It does not come from the Verde River directly.  Some municipal water supplies, especially water for landscaping and golf courses, are treated effluent.

The Verde River waters that flow into Horseshoe and Bartlett reservoirs are managed by Salt River Project for irrigation, industrial, and municipal use. Its 400 square mile service area includes all or portions of the 10 cities in the Phoenix area. The entire Salt River Project (SRP) water system is composed of seven dams, over 1,300 miles of canals, and 255 high-capacity wells. Although originally used primarily to support irrigation uses as early as 1869, today, city water treatment plants along their canal system deliver the bulk of the supplies to meet municipal water demands. SRP’s water supplies are only available to the original service area called “On-Project” lands, unlike other sources of water supplies – which can be used by anyone within the city limits. Through the conversion of water use from agricultural to urban uses, the total amount of water use within SRP’s service area has remained relatively constant since its peak use in the 1950s. http://phoenix.gov/waterservices/wrc/yourwater/index.html

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Have well water depths changed in the past decades?

All Verde Valley communities experienced considerable growth in the three decades. The combined population was 15,625 in 1980 and 22,428 in 1990. The Verde Valley population jumped from 55,543 in 2000 to 64,321 in 2010, a 16-prcent increase, between those milestones. http://www.verdenews.com/main.asp?Search=1&ArticleID=42651&SectionID=292&SubSectionID=1508&S=1

With this growth came more demand for water for domestic and municipal use, which has resulted in more wells and reduced water levels in wells. In 1950 the Verde Valley had a little over 250 groundwater wells; today we have over 6400 wells. The Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) has measured 294 wells in the Verde Valley sub-basin in 1999, 2004, and 2009. Depth to water (i.e., water tables), have changed differently throughout the valley. In the Beaver Creek area, the water table dropped significantly in the past 50 years. In some other places, there has been as slight rebound in water tables since the early 2000’s drought has lessened. It is believed that the drought was worse from 2000 to 2004 and then moderated a little. No well has recovered to levels from earlier in the 20th century.

ADWR has an overall map showing water level changes from 1999 to 2009, and two separate maps, one from 1999 to 2004 and one from 2004 to 2009. There is also a helpful summary of changes on the first page.

The overall change in depth to water map (1999 to 2009) shows that nearly every well lost water level elevation. Examples include -43 feet at Lake Montezuma, -13 feet at Verde Lakes, -40 feet in Clarkdale, and -68 feet in Cottonwood.  On the 1999 to 2004 map, most areas had lower water levels. Camp Verde stayed about the same ranging just a couple feet plus and minus, perhaps because most of those wells were dug in the Holocene Alluvium, so they are probably influenced by the river. However, from 2004 to 2009, some places had lower water levels, like Rimrock (-30 feet) and Lake Montezuma (-21 feet). The one exception was near McGuireville (+35 feet).

This is a large file because the maps are rendered at very high resolution. Zoom in using Adobe Reader to see that they are actually quite detailed enough to see individual gains and losses for each well: http://www.azwater.gov/azdwr/Hydrology/documents/WLCMSReportNo.5_VerdeValley_000.pdf

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Where does our irrigation water come from?

Irrigation water in the Verde Valley primarily comes from the Verde River and its tributaries. Forty-two ditch companies in the valley redirect surface river water to irrigate crops, water lawns, and provide for landscaping. There are seven large ditches on the main stem of the Verde. Some vineyards use groundwater for irrigation purposes as they are not located in the areas that are historically irrigated or the water from the river is not suitable for their watering systems.

In the past, few records had been kept regarding intake and return flows on ditches. Currently, The Nature Conservancy works with some of the large companies to improve their irrigation practices and to create incentives for creative water management to keep more water in the river for wildlife and recreation.

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Why does our water cost so much? 

The price of water itself is minimal.  Rather the price is a result of the cost for the development, maintenance, and upkeep of the infrastructure necessary for water delivery service. It consists largely of fixed costs for capital and personnel, and less of the variable costs for the amount of water consumed, primarily in energy and chemical use.  Infrastructure includes dams, channels, wells, pipelines, treatment plants, testing and treatment for quality, delivery systems, septic systems, ditches and canals, and more. Only part of the cost for instructure is typically billed to consumers while the rest is financed through direct or indirect subsidies from local, regional or national governments.   http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/sustain/

Noting that global water consumption is doubling every 20 years, the $450 billion water market is innovating rapidly. Companies are turning to water reuse, desalination, and other economical technologies. Water reuse will become a new source of water supply. This is consistent with the general shift in attitude that no longer speaks of ‘‘wastewater’’ but rather ‘‘water that is wasted.” Water scarcity is a critical factor driving this change, as are water efficient products, innovative membrane technology, and ultraviolet light disinfection. The water industry is moving toward a sustainable business model that promotes stewardship, while it is also profitable and supports sustainability’s triple bottom line, i.e., environmental, economic, and social.

http://www.thehorinkogroup.org/pubs/BNAWater.pdf

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What happens to water of the Verde River system?

The Verde watershed provides water for communities from the Prescott area to the Verde Valley and on to Phoenix—in fact nearly 40 percent of the surface water delivered by the Salt River Project comes from the Verde River.

The river is the lifeblood of both agriculture and rural/suburban lifestyles along the Verde and its perennial tributaries in and around the Verde Valley. Recent studies indicate that as much as 16 percent of the Verde Valley’s overall economy is directly tied to the Verde River, and the regional perception of our area is progressively more tied to “wet” and “green.” River-connected recreation and tourism account for an estimated $87.5 million and 737 jobs.

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Why does our water go to Phoenix?

The Verde River flows into the Salt River northeast of the Phoenix area and was used historically for agriculture in the broad desert valley in the 1860s. Settlers in the Verde Valley and Salt River Valley began filing claims to use waters from the Verde River. The early settlers in the Salt River Valley formed the Salt River Valley Users Association in 1903 and pledged more than 200,000 acres of their land as collateral for a government loan to build a massive water storage and delivery system. The first dam built as part of this system was Roosevelt. The Salt River Valley Water Users Association is one of two entities that make the modern day Salt River Project. http://www.srpnet.com/about/history/default.aspx

SRP is the umbrella company for the two entities: 1) Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, an agency of the State of Arizona that provides electrical service for a 2,900 square mile territory stretching from the Phoenix metropolitan area to Globe, and 2) Salt River Valley Water Users Association, a utility cooperative that serves as the primary water provider for much of its 400 square mile water service area in central Arizona. SRP also delivers Colorado River water to water-users along its canals that have allocations and delivers groundwater to its customers. It has numerous contractual agreements with other entities to deliver water supplies, including with several Indian Tribes.

Today most of SRP’s water service area is urbanized but a small percentage (<10 percent) remains in use for irrigation. Through the conversion of use from agriculture to urban uses, the total amount of water use within SRP’s service area has remained relatively constant since its peak use in the 1950s.

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Is there is a problem with water shortage because can’t we bring water in from somewhere else?

It is important to understand that there is no “surplus water” easily available. The Colorado River water is already over allocated among the seven states that share this limited resource. Added to that is the fact that Arizona is at the bottom of the priority list, should scarcity exist and water allocations need to be limited. For further information, please see the Bureau of Reclamations 2013 report on the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Report.

http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy/finalreport/index.html

It is possible that water rights could be purchased but there is no assurance that the Verde Basin with its limited population and financial resources could compete with stronger entities such as California or Nevada.

Even if water rights were purchased, the cost of constructing a pipeline is huge to deliver the water to our area. The Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee (YWAC), together with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Arizona Department of Water Resources will be releasing a report in 2013 that will provide a preliminary cost estimate of such a project. Please go to the YWAC website and look for the CHYWRMS project for the latest information. http://www.yavapai.us/bc-wac/

Another alternative would be to tap groundwater in another region’s aquifer and then pipe it to our area.  Arizona law prohibits such inter-basin transfers, and it is extremely unlikely that this law could be changed given that water resources are scarce throughout Arizona and every region wishes to protect its own interests.

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What is meant by adequate water supply?

An “adequate water supply”, as defined by law passed by the Arizona Legislature, is a “sufficient quantity of suitable quality water that is physically, legally, and continuously available for 100 years to satisfy the water demands of a proposed subdivision.” The law, passed in 1973, was meant to prevent land developers from selling land with little or no water supply after numerous land fraud incidents. The law was never intended to be a groundwater management tool but only required that the adequacy of water supply be disclosed to potential buyers.

In 1980, the Legislature passed the Groundwater Management Act (GMA) to address issues relating to overdrafts of specific areas most prevalent at that time. These areas were termed “Active Management Areas (AMAs)” and include the largest urban and agricultural areas in Arizona. The Prescott area is one of the AMAs. The GMA replaced the term “adequate water supply” with “assured water supply.” The terms are similar but “assured” also addresses depth requiring that wells be shallower than 1200 feet to be labeled “assured.” There are four steps to demonstrate an assured water supply 1) estimating water demand, 2) evaluating aquifer characteristics, 3) documenting water quality, and 4) quantifying water supplies, including groundwater availability to meet demand over 100 years after the proposed development is complete.

Cities inside of AMAs generally have access to surface water (including Colorado River water from the Central Arizona Project), groundwater, and treated effluent. Communities outside of AMAs usually rely entirely on groundwater. Some of these communities, including cities as large as Flagstaff, are experiencing rapid growth and groundwater withdrawals exceeding the recharge rate. Proposed developments inside of AMAs must demonstrate an assured water supply to receive approvals for sale of the properties. Outside of AMAs, a determination of “inadequate” water supply, remarkably, does not prevent the developer from selling lots. The “Office of Assured and Adequate Water Supply” within the Arizona Department of Water Resources manages applications for developments both within AMAs and outside of AMAs. www.azwater.gov/azdwr/WaterManagement/AAWS/OAAWS

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What is an Active Management Area and do I live in one?

Established by the 1980 Arizona Groundwater Code, an Active Management Area (AMA) is an area within the state wherein the Code recognized that serious overdraft of groundwater was occurring. The Code established management goals and requirements to address the overdraft problem for each AMA. Major restrictions and requirements include a prohibition on irrigation of new agricultural land; requirement to obtain a permit for withdrawal of groundwater for new industrial purposes; restrictions on drilling new large diameter wells; and demonstration by each new subdivision to assure a water supply that is consistent with the management goals of the AMA.

Although the Code initially established four AMAs, there are now five: Prescott, Phoenix, Tucson, Pinal, and Santa Cruz. For more information visit this website: http://www.azwater.gov/azdwr/WaterManagement/AMAs/default.htm. In the Phoenix, Prescott, and Tucson AMAs, the primary management goal is to reach safe-yield by the year 2025. Although the concept of safe yield is not well established in scientific literature, the State of Arizona defines safe yield to mean that the annual withdrawal of groundwater equals annual recharge. The goal of reaching safe yield is not a requirement and there is no penalty associated with failure to reach safe yield.

The management goal for the Pinal AMA is to preserve the agricultural economy of the area for as long as feasible, while considering the need to preserve groundwater for future non-irrigation uses. The management goal in the Santa Cruz AMA is to maintain safe-yield and to prevent local water tables from experiencing long term declines.

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How do the terms “assured water supply” and “adequate water supply” relate to areas inside and outside of Active Management Areas (AMAs)?

Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) has an Assured Water Supply program, which operates within Arizona’s five Active Management Areas (AMAs). A Certificate of An Assured Water Supply is required for each new subdivision in an AMA.

There are seven requirements that must be met to obtain the certificate: 1) the water supply must be physically available and capable of meeting the subdivisions demand for 100 years, 2) the developer must have legal rights to the water, 3) the water supply must be uninterruptible for the 100-year period, or sufficient backup supplies exist for any anticipated shortages, 4) water providers or developers must demonstrate financial capability to construct the water delivery system and any storage or treatment facilities, 5)  proposed sources of water must satisfy existing state water quality standards and any other quality standards applicable to the proposed use after treatment, 6) the water supply must be consistent with the management goals of the AMA, and 7) the water demand must be consistent with the conservation requirements of each AMA.

ADWR’s Adequate Water Supply Program operates outside the Active Management Areas and was enacted in response to the marketing of land lots without available water supplies. Only the first five of the requirements for an Assured Water Supply stated above must be demonstrated to obtain a Designation of Adequate Water Supply. State statute requires subdivision developers to obtain a determination from ADWR regarding water supply availability before marketing lots. Inadequacy of supply must be disclosed to potential buyers.

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Why are computer models important water management tools for sustainable water supplies?

Computer models of a groundwater system simulate the geologic framework of a groundwater system and the properties of this framework concerning its ability to store and transmit water. The model also simulates recharge to a groundwater system, movement of water though the geologic framework, and discharge of groundwater from the system as well as the interaction of the groundwater system with surface water.

Human stress on the hydrologic system at a given location has immediate and long-term local hydrologic consequences that are ultimately felt at distances far removed from the stress. Because groundwater and surface water are a single integrated resource, human stresses on one can also impact the other in unforeseen ways. Human stress on a groundwater system always involves removal of water from groundwater storage, and, in most instances depletion of groundwater discharge into surface water bodies. These effects can have legal, social, economic, and environmental consequences.

Groundwater models allow hydrologist to predict the immediate and long-term consequences of existing or proposed human or natural stresses on the hydrologic system both, locally and at locations far removed from the stress. They are the most sophisticated tool available for making this analysis and are, in fact, the only tool available for such purposes. Because of this ability, groundwater models are also used to evaluate the long-term sustainability of existing or proposed groundwater development plans.

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How can climate change impact our water?

Already known for drought, forest fires, flash floods, and dust storms, mostly notably the astounding “haboobs”, climate change in Arizona and throughout the Southwest will create more events, probably with more severe impacts resulting from increased temperatures.  Experts predict the Arizona “summer” season will go from April to January, with temperatures near or above 100 degrees.  Currently that is from April to September.

An EPA report on effects to the Southwest (http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/southwest.html) states that, “Increasing temperatures and more frequent and severe droughts will likely worsen existing competition for water resources.” Over committed water allocations in the region are already difficult to meet, while groundwater pumping is lowering water tables. Future climate change is projected to worsen these conditions. Climate change is likely to increase water demand while shrinking water supplies. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/water.html

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What are the sensitive and endangered species found in the Verde River basin?

The basin supports an amazing diversity of wildlife. It is one of our nation’s major bird migratory flyways. Additionally, at least 94 species of mammals and 76 species of native amphibians and reptiles use the Verde River watershed at some point in their life cycles. Roughly ten percent of Arizona’s remaining Fremont Cottonwood/Gooding Willow habitat––the rarest type of forest in North America––can be found along the Verde River.

There are several sensitive species in the basin. The USFS Arizona Ecological Services provides a list of endangered and threatened species as well as those that are candidate species and those that have been delisted. Use this link to access the information for those species: http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/arizona/Threatened.htm

Here are some of the endangered, threatened, candidate, and delisted species found in the Verde River basin:

Arizona cliffrose (Purshia subintegra): Endangered – Occurs across central Arizona including near Cottonwood in the Verde Valley and at Horseshoe Lake.

Southwest willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus): Endangered – Occurs in cottonwood/willow and tamarisk vegetation communities along rivers and streams. Riparian-obligate bird that occupies migratory/breeding habitat from late April-Sept. Revised critical habitat was finalized on August 15, 2011) and includes river segments of the Verde.

Yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus): Candidate – Occurs in large blocks of riparian woodlands (cottonwood, willow or tamarisk galleries). A neotropical migrant that winters primarily in South America and breeds primarily in the US. Concerns for cuckoos are primarily focused upon alterations to its nesting and foraging habitat. Nesting cuckoos are associated with relatively dense, wooded, streamside riparian habitat, with primarily varying combinations of Fremont cottonwood, willow, velvet ash, Arizona walnut, mesquite, and tamarisk.

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus): Delisted – Occurs in large trees or cliffs near water (reservoirs, rivers, and streams) with abundant prey. Nationwide and throughout the State of Arizona, the bald eagle is currently not listed under the Endangered Species Act. On September 30, 2010, the US District Court dissolved an injunction that led to the bald eagle in the Sonoran Desert Area of central Arizona being placed on the Endangered Species list in 2008. This determination is presently (January 2011) under judicial consideration. Bald eagles are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act) and other Federal and state statutes.

American peregrine falcon (Falco pereginus anatum): Delisted – Occurs in areas with rocky, steep cliffs, primarily near water, where prey (primarily shorebirds, songbirds, and waterfowl) concentrations are high. Nests are found on ledges of cliffs, and sometimes on structures such as office towers and bridge abutments. Species recovered with over 1,650 breeding birds in the US and Canada.

Northern Mexican gartersnake (Thamnophis eques megalops):  Candidate – Occurs in cienegas, stock tanks, large-river riparian woodlands and forests, and streamside gallery forests. Core population areas in the US include mid/upper Verde River drainage, mid/lower Tonto Creek, and the San Rafael Valley and surrounding area.

Page springsnail (Pyrgulopsis morrisoni): Candidate – Occurs in permanently saturated cienegas, firm substrate like cobble, gravel, woody debris, and aquatic vegetation. Locally endemic to the Upper Verde River drainage. All extant populations exist in a series of springs within a one-mile area west of Oak Creek near Page Springs.

Loach minnow (Tiaroga cobitis):  Endangered – A benthic (bottom of stream) species of small to large perennial streams with swift shallow water over cobble and gravel. Recurrent flooding and natural hydrograph are important to withstand invading exotic species. Populations have been recently reintroduced in Fossil Creek in Gila County among other creeks. Critical habitat has been designated in several counties including Yavapai.

Razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus):  Endangered – Occurs in riverine and lacustrine areas, generally not in fast moving water and may use backwaters. Big river fish are also found in Horseshoe reservoir. Critical habitat includes the Verde River from FS boundary to Horseshoe Reservoir.

Spikedace (Meda fulgida):  Endangered – Occurs in medium to large perennial streams with moderate to swift velocity waters over cobble and gravel substrate. Recurrent flooding and natural hydrograph are important to withstand invading exotic species. Presently found in the Verde River among other rivers. Populations have been recently reintroduced in Fossil Creek along with other creeks.

Headwater chub (Gila nigra): Candidate – Occurs in medium-sized streams in large, deep pools often associated with cover such as undercut banks or deep places created by trees or rocks. Occurs in the East Verde River and tributaries including Fossil Creek.

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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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Are there many perennial rivers in Arizona?  

In a 2004 study by The Nature Conservancy that compared current and historical data, the results showed that 35% of Arizona natural perennial flowing rivers had been altered or lost altogether as a result of dams, diversions, and groundwater pumping. http://azconservation.org/projects/water

The Verde River is one of Arizona’s last-remaining perennial river systems and contains the state’s longest stretch of continuous areas of riparian habitat, over 150 miles. The riparian habitat supports an amazing diversity of wildlife; 270 species of birds, 94 species of mammals, and 76 species of native amphibians and reptiles use the watershed at some point in their life cycles. It drains the central highlands, flowing into the Salt River and then into Horseshoe Dam north of Phoenix metropolitan area. Above the dam, the Verde is perennial to the headwaters with mostly natural flood flows, floodplains, and banks.

http://canyonecho.wikispaces.com/Arizona+Rivers-Degraded+and+Threatened

Arizona’s major perennial rivers historically supported lush riparian zones, which changed significantly with dams. The lower Colorado River below Hoover Dam is heavily channelized and dammed to serve towns and agriculture in Arizona, California, and Mexico. Development, unnatural shorelines, and invasive plants have replaced the natural riparian habitat. What was once the largest and most productive wetland in North America, the Colorado River Delta, is now a dry, cracked mudflat. No water. No riparian vegetation.

The Gila River drains southwestern New Mexico and central/southern Arizona. In Arizona, the Gila is pumped and dammed to store water for cities and agriculture. It rarely flows to the Colorado.

The Salt River collects water from the White Mountains, historically joining the Gila west of Phoenix. Five dams now constrain the Salt. At Granite Reef Dam, the entire Salt River is diverted to serve Salt River Project (SRP) customers; it no longer flows into the Gila.

The Santa Cruz River once had perennial flow past Tucson. Now, only a few sections are wet with treated effluent. Near Tucson, diversions and groundwater pumping by cities and agriculture changed a vital river into a dry wash deeply incised into the desert.

Despite decades of coordinated effort by Friends of the San Pedro River and others, last year, only 29% of the river was wet. Groundwater models predict that the San Pedro will be completely dry in a century.

Groundwater mining, surface water diversions, grazing, development, and population growth now threaten many more streams. The Nature Conservancy projects that seven more rivers will be threatened by 2050: the Agua Fria, Babocomari, San Pedro, upper Verde, and Little Colorado rivers and Lower Cienega and Arivaca creeks.

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Can a river really dry up?

Portions of the Colorado, Salt, Santa Cruz, Gila, San Pedro Rivers are dry now, and conditions are getting worse.

The visible evidence of dry rivers in Arizona makes the problem clear: there is little legal support for managing groundwater pumping or diversion to protect stream flow. There is not substantial protection for assuring sufficient water to sustain Arizona’s growing population over the long term. Indeed, Arizona law generally fails to support conjunctive management of our intimately connected and interdependent groundwater and surface water.

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What can we do?

Although rivers and riparian habitats in Arizona have been badly degraded through human endeavor, increased understanding and stewardship of the Verde River system has taken place in recent years. The future of the Verde River lies with its citizens, and a well-informed public can make choices that best reflect its values.

The recently released United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) report Human Effects on the Hydrologic System of the Verde Valley, Central Arizona, 1910-2005 and 2005-2110: Using a Regional Groundwater Flow Model found we have a clear indication of how we are impacting our water resources. Since 1910, we have steadily been decreasing our groundwater supplies and surface waters.

Now that we know, it is the time to take action. We need to institute regional water management programs, develop regional conservation programs, institute water efficient irrigation practices, acknowledge that land use planning and water resource management are interconnected, acquire lands for conservation and protect the natural habitat of rivers and creeks.

Take action by getting involved to educate yourself, your family, friends, and neighbors about our water resources.  Get involved with local organizations that are making a difference. Tell your elected officials you care.

For more information see http://vrbp.org/wp-content/uploads/Acknowledge-Cooperate-Take-Action.pdf

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