2/18/2014 11:35:00 AM Commentary: Water is a necessity, not a convenience
By: Tom O'Halleran
We live in a special place that requires a high level of stewardship to maintain. We now have the opportunity-and responsibility-to help develop the parameters of that stewardship. The United States Forest Service has submitted for public comment its "Draft Resource Management Plan for the Coconino National Forest" (CNF). The plan covers land use, archeological sites, water use, recreational use, protection of fauna and flora, and more. The plan is over 1,000 pages. The Verde River Basin Partnership (The Partnership), Keep Sedona Beautiful and groups such as the Grand Canyon Trust have recently been reviewing and commenting on the plan.
Perhaps it will help people understand the significance of the draft plan by reminding ourselves of the wonderful attributes of the area in which we live.
Do you remember the first time you drove into the Verde Valley/Sedona area? Many of us expressed the feeling of wonder when we first saw the beauty of this oasis in the middle of the desert. A beautiful valley surrounded the Mingus Mountains on one side, with breathtaking red rock formations just below the Colorado Plateau on the other side. Upon a closer inspection you see the strips of green vegetation along the Verde River and its tributaries, the true wonders of this high desert environment. Over time geological changes and streams such as Oak Creek, Sycamore Creek, Beaver Creek, Fossil Creek and West Clear Creek have created the deep canyons that dissect the rim just below the Plateau.
The scenic quality of the region is unmatched in Arizona and the Southwestern United States. The water resources of the region allow for human habitation, a vibrant economy, excellent quality of life and a diverse and important ecological system.
Human habitation has occurred in the region for thousands of years. These early inhabitants must have had similar feels upon their arrival to the area. They came by foot through the harsh desert environment of Arizona in search of water and a location that provided food and shelter. The majestic valley sanctuary in contrast to the harshness of the desert allowed those early residents the ability to survive.
Today most of us arrive by car or bus after a relatively short drive from Phoenix. The harsh desert environment is still there, but due to modern technology, we can easily forget that we also traveled through harsh surroundings that even today are difficult to survive in without water. We need to recognize that the Verde River Basin (VRB) is truly a desert wonder. The CNF is one of four national forests that have lands in the VRB. Most of the water resources within the VRB are located in the CNF management area, creating even more reason to comment on the plan.
We chose to live in this region for a number of reasons but the area's scenic quality and water resources are probably major reasons for our decision. Other factors may not be as evident, but are important to understand so we can be good stewards while we are here. The management plan identifies some of the unique water resource, wildlife and ecological characteristics of our region.
Our region contains some of the largest number of archaeological sites in the United States. You may have visited sites such as Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot and not realized that most of our archaeological sites are located near the Verde River and other creeks and streams. As we do today, these early residents recognized that they needed a reliable water supply to survive. Unlike today, they did not have the ability to pump water from deep in the ground. It wasn't until around 1910 that the first deep groundwater wells were used. And that began the steady decline in our groundwater resources.
According to the draft plan, the CNF has all of Arizona's big game species, except buffalo. These include: pronghorn, black bear, bighorn sheep, elk, javelina, turkey, mountain lion, mule deer and white-tail deer. We can reasonably assume that a significant reason for diversity and number of these species is due to our water resources.
There are only two designated Wild and Scenic rivers in all of Arizona. They both occur in the Verde Valley. One is the lower portion of the Verde River below Camp Verde and the other is Fossil Creek. In addition, the West Fork of Oak Creek is eligible for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Of note is that the travertine formation in Fossil Creek is of international significance and is of similar scale with a handful of travertine systems in China, Afghanistan, Turkey and a couple of other countries. The State of Arizona has also designated three streams-Fossil Creek, Oak Creek and West Fork of Oak Creek-as being outstanding state resources and classified them as Outstanding Arizona Waters.
The draft plan is over a thousand pages and identifies the many challenges our region faces concerning water quantity and quality issues. In coming articles, The Partnership will continue to highlight the many attributes of the Verde River Basin and identify how we, the stewards of this region, can help preserve this valued treasure.
The Partnership wants you to know that "Our water is not a convenience; it is necessary for our survival now and into the future." Proactive regional management will help us in the quest to save our water resources.
Tom O'Halleran is the chairman of the Verde River Basin Partnership