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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : latest news : local May 28, 2016

5/4/2013 12:06:00 PM
Verde River going with the flow
Sierra Club releases flow monitoring report
Arizona Water Sentinels found that the upper Verde River is literally “going with the flow” because the base flow of the river is gradually decreasing over time, including over the last five years when the rate of decrease was about 1 cubic foot per second (cfs) per year.
Arizona Water Sentinels found that the upper Verde River is literally “going with the flow” because the base flow of the river is gradually decreasing over time, including over the last five years when the rate of decrease was about 1 cubic foot per second (cfs) per year.

The Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club released the Going With the Flow report, summarizing the results of over five years of volunteer flow monitoring on the upper Verde River by the Arizona Water Sentinels, a grassroots citizen science program that focuses on monitoring and protecting Arizona rivers and streams.

Arizona Water Sentinels found that the upper Verde River is literally "going with the flow" because the base flow of the river is gradually decreasing over time, including over the last five years when the rate of decrease was about 1 cubic foot per second (cfs) per year. The base flow of the river is now less than the long-term average of 25 cfs determined by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) from their Paulden stream gaging station records over the past 50 years. Monthly average flow at the USGS Paulden gage ranged between 20-25 cfs between 2007 and 2012.

"The principal threat to the upper Verde River isn't water pollution, it's the threat posed by continuing decreases in the base flow of the river," said Steve Pawlowski, Arizona Water Sentinels Program Coordinator for the Sierra Club. "If the trend that our Water Sentinels found continues, the upper Verde River above Perkinsville could start drying up during the summer in as little as 10 years ... that loss of a flowing upper Verde River would be tragic."

The flow monitoring data summarized in the Going With the Flow report were obtained from December 2006 through March 2012. Arizona Water Sentinels volunteered hundreds of hours of time, making monthly trips to the upper Verde River to measure flow at three sites on the river. The three sites are located within the uppermost 25 miles of the Verde River at Perkinsville, Bear Siding, and above Verde Springs. Water Sentinels also compiled and analyzed flow data obtained from the USGS Paulden stream gaging station and the Salt River Project Campbell Ranch low-flow gage for this report.

"I originally volunteered to get involved in monitoring the Verde River, first water quality and then for many years water flow, because of Prescott's and Prescott Valley's plan to pump water from the Big Chino aquifer, jeopardizing the future output at the Verde Springs," said Tom Slaback, volunteer Water Sentinel for the Sierra Club. "I felt we needed to establish a baseline which in the future would allow us to note any changes in the river flow or water quality due to groundwater pumping. If 8,000 acre-feet of groundwater is removed by pumping, the river will go dry in certain locations. We cannot allow this to happen."

Summer base flow of the upper Verde River has decreased dramatically in the last five years. Water Sentinels measured record low flows of about 9 cfs in summers of 2010 and 2011 at its Perkinsville site. If current rates of decrease in summertime base flow continue unchanged, the upper Verde River could start running dry in the summer within the next 10 years.

There is a strong hydrologic connection between groundwater levels in the regional aquifers of the Big Chino Subbasin and the discharge of groundwater from the seeps and springs that create the upper Verde River.

Multiple lines of evidence documented in USGS studies show that the Big Chino Subbasin supplies approximately 80-86 percent of the groundwater creating the base flow of the upper Verde River.

There also is evidence that groundwater pumping from the Big Chino Subbasin directly affects the amount of groundwater discharged to the upper Verde River at its source, Verde Springs.

If groundwater is pumped to satisfy the projected total unmet water demand in the region in 2050, it will reduce and eventually consume the entire base flow of the upper 24 miles of the Verde River.

"Arizona should be proud of the Water Sentinels, volunteer citizen-scientists who work to protect our water quality and to restore our rivers," said Gary Beverly, Yavapai (Prescott-area) Group Chair for the Sierra Club . "In particular, the Sentinels flow measurements on the Verde River play a critical role in maintaining base flow on Arizona's longest surviving perennial river."

The report makes recommendations for actions that can be taken now to reduce this existential threat to the upper Verde River. They include establishing and maintaining an instream flow for the upper Verde River.

The Arizona Water Sentinels focused its efforts on the upper Verde River due to the threats posed by groundwater pumping from communities such as Prescott and Prescott Valley and the significant development occurring in the watershed, as well as the importance of this perennial river to the people of Arizona and the diversity of plants and animals it supports.

To view a copy of the full report, go to

For other Water Sentinels monitoring results go to

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013
Article comment by: Devils advocate to Dire Straits~ .

Sooo... some might read that position as advocating the mining of ground water and see that as exploiting the very land you wish to preserve.

What really is the difference between digging another open pit mine there rather than sinking several deep ground water wells? Aside from the obvious aesthetic difference...not much.

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

You might start with asking how little water all the current residents are willing to get by on to begin with. Are they willing to shower once a week, rather than once a day? Are they willing to have no plants that need to be watered outside? Will water pricing lower water use, or will the well-to-do still have swimming pools or lawns, while the poorer people have to share bathwater? Lots of ethical questions to ask regarding how much an area grows and is still able to provide enough water for its residents. It seems the existing/current residents should come first before planning for growth for which there may be no water.

Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Article comment by: Dire Straits

We can see from the kinds of issues raised here what a thorny problem this is.

But we should also be optimistic that we can reach a permanently sustainable water solution if we have a realistic understanding of our situation, and work cooperatively together.

Key to this realistic understanding is the fact that our water supply is not infinite. It most definitely has a sustainable carrying capacity that we may have already exceeded. And if we haven't exceeded it now, we most certainly will in the foreseeable future.

That future is becoming increasingly clear, thanks to the best available science provided by the USGS.

Unless we change, we will dry up the Verde River, and we will dry up at least some of our water production wells.

We will experience plunging property values because of water supply problems. To survive, some of us may have to truck in drinking water.

It does us no good to deny this. It does us no good to point fingers and tell other people to move away. That gets us nowhere.

What we can do is be realistic and admit we have a problem, and seek solutions that are responsible to ourselves, to future generations, and to the environment.

This is why people keep coming back to the question of the 10 square mile block of State Trust land, which qualifies for matching funds from the Arizona Preserve Initiative.

It is feasible to conserve this land instead of developing it. Instead of increasing water demand by 25,000 to 50,000 people, we may be able to use that land instead as a water production resource.

We must begin to look at every possible avenue available to address the upcoming water crisis, and put aside our differences and cooperate.

Be confident that by working together, we can protect the river and future generations.

Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Article comment by: wHerE shOUld the LiNe be DRAWn ?

Who gets to stay? If folks are as worried as they claim to be then would it not ultimately require that everyone who was not here to 'start with' should be required to pack up and split the scene.

Is there a date that can be set? Is there a population limit that people will agree to? Will all of the transplants from other areas that talk the conservation talk go ahead and leave the area so they are not liable for the water use that they fear any sort of development will bring?

They were in fact part of the very growth they now deride.

Beyond recent residents... long time dwellers are just as responsible for using water so they should not be immune to repercussions.

The line the no growthers are drawing in the soil is not black and white.

Who is the judge and jury in this case? Aside from tossing stones in glass houses who has an answer that does not conflict with free-will, the free market economy or state laws?

Who picks the winners? Maybe we have the great verde valley residence lottery? If you get picked you can stay, if not you better start looking for another place to call home.

That is the logical conclusion to that mindset.

What other option is there then?

Posted: Sunday, May 5, 2013
Article comment by: Shaking my head dallas

When will the leaders of Arizona recognize the danger of our rivers and lakes drying up. What is their solution, or do they even care?
The only solution I see is restricting new developments from being built. We only have so much water to go around, yet I see nothing being done on how we can save our beloved water sources. What I see is new home communities being built which will only make it worse. Sooner or later if there isn't steps taken to protect our river's and lakes, Arizona will be dead.
What's going to happen to our children and our grandchildren when we have no more water in Arizona, what will this state become? The moon?
Enough is enough, It's time to put our land first!

Posted: Sunday, May 5, 2013
Article comment by: Cannot allow river to go dry

Great work by this group to establish a baseline.

It's good to know people are determined to not let the upper Verde go dry, despite the plans of Prescott and Prescott Valley.

We here in the Verde need to be just as vigilant, with the USGS modeling data showing our stretch will go dry if we continue on the same path we are now.

To those in the City of Cottonwood who think this won't happen, or pretend that the USGS isn't the best most reliable source of information ...

... know that we are watching. The people care. We cannot allow the river to go dry.

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