State of the Watershed - Current Initiatives to Preserve the Verde River

LFA staff recently attended the Verde River: State of the Watershed Conference. Our takeaways from the conference are below, with resources listed from "Verde River Basin Water-Resources Primer" (VRBP, 2015). This is part two of a four part series.

As a deeper understanding and appreciation for the value of the Verde River and its tributaries grows, it’s important to recognize the diverse group of partners that have been working together for decades to restore habitat, sustain flows, and promote community.

RESTORING HABITAT

One of the most significant natural resources in the Verde Watershed is the perennial and intermittent streams of the Verde River - all of which supports some of the most important riparian areas and associated upland habitat remaining in Arizona and the Southwest. This habitat supports over 60 percent of the vertebrate species that inhabit the watershed, is a critical flyway to migratory birds and contains critical habitat for several federal and state listed birds and fish species.

Increasing pressure from drought, recreational use, the invasion of non-native plants and animals, water scarcity and other stressors, threaten the health of this shrinking riparian and wetland habitat.  Thankfully there are many groups working hard to restore habitats throughout the watershed:

SUSTAINING FLOWS

The Verde River is currently the last healthy, perennially flowing river in the state, and is essential as a water supply and economic and ecological asset. However, pressures on the system mean that innovation and effort will be required to sustain the river's flow in the future.  Some of the current efforts across the watershed to keep the river flowing are as follows:

  • The Nature Conservancy of Arizona is managing surface water use with the implementation of automated drip irrigation systems to make irrigation more efficient and leave more water in the Verde River.
  • Freshwater Policy Consulting has launched The Verde River Exchange Offset Program to protect the free-flowing waters of the Verde River.
  • Citizens of Water Advocacy Group are educating on ways we can conserve water in our own home.
  • Western Resource Advocates are integrating local land and water use planning to encourage water efficiency.

PROMOTING COMMUNITY

The Verde River and its tributaries provide many economic and quality of life benefits to residents of Arizona. It supports agriculture, outdoor recreation and tourism, enhances property values in the upper reaches and provides critical water supplies to downstream communities. The Verde River is surrounded by public lands managed by Arizona State Parks, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, as well as private landowners that sustain the Verde Valley's rich heritage in ranching and farming.

Private landowners, business owners, and community members are making great strides as stewards of the watershed - through volunteerism, business partnerships, and implementing riparian habitat improvements. Youth are learning about the river and how to be our next generation of conservationists though partner engagement and educational programs. Community leaders from Clarkdale, Camp Verde, One for the Verde, Yavapai College, Coconino National Forest, and the Yavapai-Apache Nation described the state of their communities and how the river links us together.

Here are several takeaways from the discussion regarding ways to promote the Verde communities and the river that flows through them:

  • Engaging community members who do not already have a connection to the watershed is important, as people will protect what they know and love. Educating the community about where their water comes from and how their water use contributes to the health of the river needs to be an ongoing activity.
  • Constant communication is essential. The region is popular with tourists and non-locals who enjoy the Verde River Watershed. Conservation efforts must be visible to those passing through town through so that they can be good stewards of the waterway. This is accomplished through signage, geotourism marketing, and verbal messaging. 
  • Citizens, organizations, businesses, and government agencies must work together to engage in sustainable recreation, economic, environmental, and social and cultural impact. This collaboration results in shared ownership and problem solving.

Stay tuned for the third blog post of this series where we discuss ways we can all take part in preserving the Verde River.