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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : opinions : editorials September 26, 2016

6/20/2013 12:58:00 PM
Stewardship is needed now for Verde River Basin

By: Tom Halleran

They have been here for thousands of years sculpting our canyons and supplying water for wildlife, aquatic species, vegetation and eco-systems. They provide a quality of life unique in the arid Southwestern United States.

Our region's rivers, creeks, streams and springs are rare to the desert and are a resource that may not always be available to us. Historically, Arizona has dried up similar resources since current Arizona water law statutes do not provide for their protection.

Many people in our region are familiar with the Verde River and Oak Creek. Surface waters such as Sycamore Creek, Wet Beaver Creek, West Clear Creek, Fossil Creek and the East Verde River located away from population centers each with its own distinct personality, geology and wildlife habitat are also very important as they are tributaries that flow into the Verde River.

Their commonality is their magnificent beauty surrounded by some of the most remarkable landscape in Arizona and the United States. Combined these surface waters, the groundwater that feeds them and world renowned adjacent scenic lands make up the Verde River Basin.

We need to find a way to provide the stewardship necessary to sustain these exceptional natural resources for thousands of years to come.

Without the surface waters that have helped shape the exceptional canyons through which they flow there would still be beauty but our canyons would lose there life blood and soul.

Over time current vegetation and wildlife species would change and aquatic life would become extinct. We and future generations would be deprived of sitting next to a flowing body of water and instead be looking at a dry wash which has running water in it only during major precipitation events and spring runoff.

The United States Geological Survey has released its findings on a study that determined the impacts of human induced groundwater pumping on the surface waters of the Verde River and the groundwaters within the Verde Valley.

The results of their study indicated that since 1910 we have been impacting the surface water flow of the Verde River and this impact will continue as our region's dependence on groundwater continues to increase due to population growth.

During late spring through early fall, when water is legally diverted for irrigation, we will see parts of the Verde River go dry. Throughout much of the Verde Valley groundwater levels will decrease in excess of 100 feet by 2110.

Time is not on our side. As we continue to negatively impact our water we are increasing the environmental, economic and real costs for solutions. Our current water management practices have been proven a failure. Denial will not lead us to solutions.

The obvious reason for immediate action is that stewardship is needed now. Consider that when it comes to water law and management change has historically taken time in Arizona.

The current water adjudication process has been ongoing for decades with no date in sight for resolution. Arizona's historic Groundwater Code became law as far back as 1982 and since has seen only minor changes.

Our state has grown by millions. Our population is projected to double within the next 50 years. It took our state almost 100 years to require a statewide water management plan, drought management plan and state conservation plan and even these basic management tools were resisted.

We can affect the future of some of the most significant water resources in Arizona through responsible stewardship and regional cooperation.

Moving forward we will require regional conservation, coordinated management principles, planning for the future, recognition that land use planning and water resource management should be an integrated process. We should value our water resources and acknowledge that they are tied to our economic viability while becoming educated on water resource issues.

Our surface waters have been a vital contributor to our region's existence for thousands of years. In just over a hundred years groundwater pumping has started to degrade these resources so their very future is in question. We can do better.

For additional information go to the Verde River Basin Partnership's website at and join us on Facebook at

Tom O'Halleran is the chairman of the Verde River Basin Partnership.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, June 21, 2013
Article comment by: Just The Facts.

The authors of the report indicate that the report
is not perfect. As a mater of fact they use data
from only three stations....and it is not using
continuous data of 100 years,,,there were many
missing years of data.

Secondly the main objective of the report was to
supply text book theory of how man can impact
surface water bodies and rivers, streams, etc.

If citizens or state, county, local officials push
for specific answers (eg. when will the river go
dry?) Their only answer is they need to supply
the study group with real factual raw data...
and real factual future data they will give you
a possible answer.

Posted: Friday, June 21, 2013
Article comment by: OK- based on those numbers then -

You would have to pump 20 times the annual base flow every year for 100 years to drop the entire basin by 100'... assuming no natural recharge etc.

Now you can look at the flow at a certain point and a certain time but consider this... has anyone checked up stream to see if some beavers may have built a dam and spread the river out so that more of it is evapped or absorbed prior to the area of measure?

Simple things like that may skew the digits.

Posted: Friday, June 21, 2013
Article comment by: I'm looking @ the Total Base Flow (magnitude) chart in the USGS fact sheet

Ok, so it's pretty easy to see and hear from the report (and common sense) that humans are impacting the river, to what degree on the base flow only is mentioned in the study. However, I am not too much into reading through 50 page scientific studies so I like taking a look at the fact sheet to the study. On the 2nd page, the first chart (absolute magnitude) shows the Total Base Flow from 1910 to 2005 at the Camp Verde gage (end/exit point of the valley) - this chart is very fascinating to me and I don't hear anybody talking about it.
In 1910 total base flow (annual) was about 86,000 acre feet, fast forward 95 years to 2005 the total base flow (annual) was about 81,000 acre feet - a difference of 5,000 acre feet! This chart notes increases in the annual base flow due to increased natural recharge.
I am sorry, but we humans, animals and crops require surface & ground H2O to live, plain and simple. We need to always strive to be more efficient, but over nearly a full century with the Verde Valley population swelling 1000% and the total base flow being affected is only 5,000 acre feet (what, like 6%?)? That is really a small decrease! I look forward to improving on decreasing that #, but I am not following the scare tactics that have came from this report of the river drying up, and we are going to need to move folks out of the valley because their wells are dry.

Posted: Friday, June 21, 2013
Article comment by: Can we clarify the 100' drop ?

If one merely reads the letter above it seems to say that pumping water until 2110 will decrease the 'ground water' by over 100'.

At first blush that seems like a lot of water. After some searching we find that the VVsub basin is about 2600 square miles- converted to acres that is 1,664,000, if you then follow the letter and multiply that by 100'.. .well you get alot of water, 166,400,000 acre feet.

So that would require that you pump 1,644,000 acre feet per year out of the basin and assume no more water flow in to replace it. Tried to find the total acre feet per year that are or have been pumped out of the basin but that info is not apparent in the USGS report. Would be great to know though.

But- what is key here is that the ground water elevations that might/could/maybe drop 100' are more likley the well levels... not the entire level of the water under the ground.

Well levels are know to fluctuate... and nobody wants to waste water or over develop or be a poor steward... these numbers are too important to cherry pick and not explain in more detail than a letter that leaves folks open to making wild assumptions and incorrect calculations. (Which was done here as an example for example)

The USGS has already had to reiterate that their model does not forecast the Verde running dry in 20 or 30 years... do they also need to clarify the drop in non-river base flows?

Could Mr. O'Halleran clarify that? Please... anyone?

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