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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : opinions : opinions May 24, 2016

5/7/2013 8:03:00 AM
Guest Editorial: Will Verde follow paths of other ‘former’ rivers?
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Ed Wolfe

Will we ever learn? Will we ever care? Are we prepared to watch the Verde River follow the paths of the Gila, the Salt, the Santa Cruz, and now likely, the Upper San Pedro, from a river that flows year round to one that flows only after storms or snowmelt?

A new report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows beyond question that pumping of groundwater in both the upper Verde River watershed, which is above the Paulden streamgage, and in the Verde Valley has caused and will continue to cause depletion of the Verde River’s base flow far into the future.

Base flow is the part of a river’s streamflow that is supplied by groundwater that exits to the river and its tributaries. Base flow provides roughly half of the Verde’s annual streamflow between Paulden and Camp Verde and keeps the river flowing year round. Without that contribution from groundwater, the Verde would flow only when storms or snowmelt provide sufficient runoff. The critically important concept, long understood by hydrologists and now clearly documented by the new USGS report, is that pumping of groundwater from our aquifers reduces the base flow in connected surface-water features such as the Verde River.

Applying the Northern Arizona Regional Groundwater-Flow Model, the USGS analysis showed that historical (1910 through 2005) groundwater pumping throughout northern Arizona caused human-induced reductions of Verde River base flow in 2005 of approximately 4,900 acre-feet per year (af/yr), or 11%, where the Verde River enters the Verde Valley above Clarkdale, and 10,200 af/yr, or 12%, where the river exits the Verde Valley below Camp Verde. (An acre-foot, 325,851 gallons, is commonly considered sufficient to supply between two and four average-size families in Yavapai County for a year).

Three hypothetical forward-looking runs from 2006 through 2109 were also undertaken: (1) 2005 pumpage was gradually decreased by 15 percent through 2059 and then held constant through 2109; (2) pumpage was held unchanged through 2109 at the same rates and at the same locations as in 2005; (3) 2005 pumpage was gradually increased by 15 percent through 2059 and then held constant through 2109. For the three hypothetical forward-looking runs, the modeled rate of depletion of base flow in 2109, in response to pumpage from 1910 through 2109, ranges from 7,600 to 8,700 af/yr, or 18-20%, where the river enters the Verde Valley above Clarkdale, and the modeled rate of base-flow depletion where the river exits the Verde Valley, below Camp Verde, ranges from 15,600 to 18,800 af/yr, or 18-22%.

Importantly, the achieved pumping rate in each of the three hypothetical forward-looking runs falls short of the attempted pumping rate by about 2,700 to 2,900 ac-ft/yr because of simulated wells going dry, especially in the Verde Valley. In addition, the USGS report predicts that groundwater-level declines of more than 100 feet are expected by 2109 in the vicinity of Cottonwood, near Sedona, near Dry Beaver Creek east of the Village of Oak Creek, in the Woody Ridge area southwest of Flagstaff, and in the Lake Mary area southeast of Flagstaff.

It is important to understand that the forward-looking runs do not predict any reasonably expected reality in future water demand or future locations of population growth or pumping. Instead, they were designed simply to explore how groundwater pumping affects the Verde River Basin’s hydrologic system and Verde River streamflow. Indeed, even the most aggressive of the three forward-looking runs almost certainly understates future water demands and pumpage affecting our Verde River watershed.

The message is unmistakable. Historical pumping has diminished the base flow of the Verde River from its headwaters near Paulden through Camp Verde. Future pumping, whether increased, held constant, or decreased, will further diminish the base flow.

Parts of the Verde River are at risk of becoming dry in the future, and water to support future populations will become ever more difficult and expensive to acquire. The time for citizens and communities in both the Prescott region and the Verde Valley to plan is now. Regional goodwill and cooperation are key to finding innovative ways to make the use of our limited water resources more efficient and to assure that our grandchildren and great grandchildren still have a river and water resources sufficient for them, too, to enjoy this high-desert paradise.

Please submit your comments and questions to info@cwagaz.org.

Ed Wolfe is a member of the Verde River Basin Partnership’s Coordinating Committee and chairs the Partnership’s Technical Advisory Group. He is vice chair of the Verde Watershed Association.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, May 11, 2013
Article comment by: Tom Babbitt

Dear corporate citizens: The zoning law changes did not result in enough profit for our retail divisions so it has been determined that changes to your water right laws will be necessary to ensure our continued profits. The standard procedure will be applied,
1. Declare an "Issue" and make people panic over it.
2. Behave like children by asking about the "issue" repeatedly without saying what we want to do. Tantruming when people don't agree with us.
3. Bully, slander and berate the community until we get what we want.

Posted: Saturday, May 11, 2013
Article comment by: A Problem I think?

Groundwater pumping makes me wonder what percentage of pumped groundwater goes through a municipality that charges? I would think more groundwater gets pumped out of independent wells. I'd also think you're not charging accurately unless you go after all the individual users of all the irrigation ditches in the Verde Valley.

Posted: Saturday, May 11, 2013
Article comment by: Just Curious

So, Debra, wondering what you might think of people who use water to grow healthy food for their families (which might also be fruit trees), so that they aren't forced to eat sprayed and genetically modified foods that are so prolific and cheap in the grocery stores. Should they be penalized for wanting to eat healthy? Or maybe only those who can afford to pay more for water should be able to have gardens?

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013
Article comment by: NOT A LOCAL! but curious

does this mean the verde river is losing inches yearly? because a very prominent organization in yavapai county is claiming it has been the exact same in structure and depth for the last 6 years...thank you for this article. it is very interesting to say the least.

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013
Article comment by: Debra Yavapai County

It's time to end irrigation rights or at least make them pay for pumping. So called agricultural watering for people who are growing animals, fruit trees, etc. for their own consumption has gotten out of hand.

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013
Article comment by: Unless somebody will commit it's just a hissy-fit. .

So who is willing to determine the #'s?

How many people can the valley supply water for.

What point in time is it that the area hit the tipping point into the bottomless pit of almost maybe no return?

Who stays and who goes?

For all the bluster maybe we forget that the planet has all the water it will ever have, no more no less. Water is not created nor is it destroyed, it simply transitions between being a solid/liquid/gas.

Right now we are a but a period at the end of a sentence that is the foot note in the book of time as we know it.

Of course we don't want to waste natural resources...but as Mary H. brings up... what price are folks willing to pay for the luxury of existence here in the valley or anywhere for that matter?

Of course people being here is going to affect various parts of the environ, and depending on the scope of observation those affectations will appear as either insurmountable peaks or simply slow rolling hills.

Step back and recall that our fine little valley was once nothing but a bump in the bed of a river or lake that you could not fathom. The proof is a day hike away as you walk the river or drive by excavations for a roadway.

Perhaps we should not hold ourselves so high as to think that we are the be all and end all in natures game, after all we are only human.

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013
Article comment by: Peter, Yavapai County

Mary, I'm no expert, obviously. But to grow the economy without increasing water use means only businesses and industries which use no water. There are many such industries (golf tourism and hotels with lots of laundry and swimming pools are not in this category).

To grow job numbers, means more people moving in more toilets, more landscaping, more swimming pools, etc.

We might prefer creating fewer, higher paying jobs in water independent industries and charge more for water to those who choose to live here.

Solar energy is suited for the high desert. Arizona could be a significant energy exporter. Modern server farms and telecommunications, etc. use little water and seek cheap energy.

The good lord gave us plenty of solar energy and a little bit of water. It's time we used our common sense.

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013
Article comment by: Mary Heartman

@Peter, Yavapai County
That doesn't answer my question. I asked how can Arizona develop more jobs for existing citizens and more revenue for expanded educational and social programs without further depleting it's scenic rivers? As you say, no matter how much the Prescott and Verde valleys conserve, it won't be enough to maintain current flow, much less support more industry.

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013
Article comment by: Peter, Yavapai County

Mary, as Ed points out,
"Future pumping, whether increased, held constant, or decreased, will further diminish the base flow."

Even the status quo is unsustainable. Increasing the price of water will discourage waste, prolonging supply. If big users are charged more per gallon, they will either conserve or move their business, further prolonging supply for small users.

Artificially under pricing water is part of the problem. (Have you noticed how much folks are willing to pay for water in a plastic bottle?)

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013
Article comment by: Conservation Steps Needed

1. Slow down all out-side plant watering...use
only dessert type plants.

2. Stop or pull back golf course watering.

3. Stop or pul back vineyards...for evey cup of
wine we develope do we need to expend many
gallons of water.

4. Reduce population...us new folks may be
the first to leave the area.

5. No more and pull back all grass lawns, and
sports fields...etc.

And the list grows...for if we do nothing we may
all have to leave the area...

Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013
Article comment by: p u

What are you going to do Ed? Will you pay for my undeveloped land that I am saving to sell for my retirement? Will you move off of yours to help save the river? (I shoot the messenger sometimes)

Peter has it right - but we need to be able to have basic needs met cheaply. Just make everything over a certain low limit really expensive. And make it hugely outrageously expensive like 40 thousand dollars a month for the huge wasters. People need to know that jus because you are rich and can pay a large bill, does not make it okay.

Maybe we need to have a tax of sorts to buy up undeveloped land at a fair price.

By the way, even though I think you should walk the talk, you look like you are not young... so I guess at least you should be thanked for having some apparent care about the future. But I don't think the sky is falling as much as you and the media headline grab. But thats not enough to not plan - on that I agree.

Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013
Article comment by: Mary Heartman

@ Peter, Yavapai County
Arizona wants more jobs for existing citizens and more revenue for expanded educational and social programs. But Arizona doesn't have the infrastructure to attract the companies that provide high revenue jobs and doesn't have the water to expand the infrastructure. How will raising the price of water change that?

Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013
Article comment by: Peter, Yavapai County

The diamond/water paradox:

The diamond is considered precious so it commands a high price due to it's high perceived value. Yet it offers no benefit other than beauty.

Water, which is essential to life and happiness is wasted in massive quantities because it is essentially free, and therefore not valued.

We need to charge the appropriate price for water if we expect better decisions to be made about it.

Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013
Article comment by: As the last drop of water evaporates

from the Verde River bed, I can hear a developer telling his client, "Don't worry, there is an undiscovered aquifer over there that will bring you all the water."

Call me a cynic.


Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Article comment by: kenny mollohan

Boy, thats the truth, no water no life

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