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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : opinions : opinions September 30, 2016

2/1/2014 10:28:00 AM
Letter: Verde Valley's water future is in your hands


Thanks to the Verde Independent and Yvonne Gonzalez on her excellent story about the future of water in Arizona and the editorial in Friday's paper. It's great that the Independent is helping us all understand what will certainly become the single most important and impactful discussion of the next 20 years! As Yvonne points out in her article, and according to the Department of Water Resources (DWR), our state will need an extra 3 million acre-feet of water - enough to serve about 12 million homes, or 30 million people - in the next century. But I think it's important to understand that this shortage will arise only if we take no steps between now and then to solve it. The big questions we will all need to answer are: what we will do about it, how will we pay for it and what are we willing to give up in order to meet the challenge?

Yavapai County and the Verde Valley are in exactly the same situation as the rest of the state, just on a smaller scale. We face continuing population growth - estimated by the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee (WAC), DWR and the Bureau of Reclamation to bring 140,000 new residents to the Verde Valley in the next 40 years - without a clear plan for supplying the water we and our new friends will need. Since all of the homes in the Verde Valley use groundwater as their primary water source, and because all groundwater consumption decreases the flows of the river, we will need to decide whether we'll conserve the flows of the Verde River and its rich ecosystems or sacrifice it, which, as Yvonne pointed out, Arizona has done 7 times in the past, in exchange for fast growth and cheap water.

We need to decide as a region if a healthy, continuously-flowing Verde River is important to our lives, or if we are willing to sacrifice it. But either way, we'll need to begin a concerted and cooperative process that addresses where we will get the water we need, how many people can live here, and how we will finance the acquisition of any new water resources. The WAC would be the logical place to start this discussion. Since the WAC is in the process of discussing the results of the Central Yavapai Highlands Water Resource Management Study (CYHWRMS), now is the time for us all to engage in this forum.

Possible new water sources identified in CYHWRMS include importing water from other watersheds in the state (a pipeline or pipelines), increasing use of our treated effluent, and using storm water. Another source is the continued and increased exploitation of our local groundwater, in which case the river and its trees, fish, otters and birds will pay the price. All of the alternatives come with a hefty price tag, and none of them is a quick and easy fix. They will all need collaborative agreement and cooperation by the stakeholders - the Verde Valley's cities and towns, Yavapai County, and all of the citizens.

Other possible solutions might focus on strategies that don't rely on finding more water. As an experienced hydrologist recently reminded me, bringing new water from distant sources is a temporary and expensive fix. We may want to consider another alternative - living within our means. That's easier said than done, of course, but such a decision may make the most sense if we want to continue to enjoy the rural lifestyle we love and have a beautiful river to enjoy and use. "Living within our means" need not mean sky-high water rates, or stagnant economic conditions, nor would it necessarily mean that new people couldn't move here and enjoy our same values. But it does mean that we will need to allocate our water resources carefully and conscientiously so that we have enough to drink and bathe and so that we don't do further harm to the Verde. The Town of Clarkdale, for instance, is engaged in a study to see what it would take to live within our means and how that might affect our future economy, lifestyle and quality of life.

I encourage everyone who is concerned with the future of the Verde Valley and the Verde River to pay close attention to the WAC CYHWRMS discussions, and to attend your local City or Town Council or Board of Supervisors meetings when they discuss these topics. The WAC meetings are all public and can be attended either in Prescott or Cottonwood. This may well be the most important decision the Verde Valley has ever had to make. The future is in your hands!

Doug Von Gausig

Executive Director

Verde River Institute

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, February 14, 2014
Article comment by: Gray Grammarian

To Mayor Von Gausig:

This is the most straight-forward and well phrased presentation of the Verde Valley's water options I've seen from a public official. Thank you for making the available courses clear and stark. I'm looking forward to reading the Town of Clarkdale's evaluation of the means to live within its means.

Limiting development, recycling grey-water, and capturing storm runoff to help recharge the aquifer seem the best alternatives to me. The consequences seen in other states make importing water only marginally better than pumping the Verde dry, and the Verde Valley without the Verde is not an option I can comprehend. Whether or not everyone realizes this, most current residents stayed here, returned here, or were drawn here for the environment our river creates.

Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Article comment by: Dan McLaughlin

Sorry for all of my bad grammar and sentence structure and inability to check my previous letter for errors.
The fact remains that rainfall has decreased steadily over the last 30 years and growth has doubled, tripled, and quadrupled in communities and towns drawing from, and from underneath, the Verde river.
It makes no sense to encourage new growth, when there isn't enough water to go around now. That is called " putting the cart in front of the horse"

Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Article comment by: Slater Slater

Water solutions are in your hands,put a brick
in your toilet tank and start saving water.

Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Article comment by: Dan McLaughlin

@ shaking my head

I am a realist. I see things in a very "matter of fact " way. The facts are we have received less and less water over the last with a weather trend that started in the 1990's.

I have also witnessed unsustainable growth during this time. With less rainfall, more draining of the aquifer and increased growth, what do you think will happen Mr.shaking your head?

Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Article comment by: @shaking my head -

Ah the old no growth mantra... 'keep new growth out'.

Well make it a less desirable place to live perhaps, trash it up a bit. Complain about growth in the comments section.

Limit private property owners rights?

Use more water! the sooner it runs out the sooner you get your wish!

How ironic if the solution for the no-growther's that have used water conservation as a reason to restrict growth, was to actually use more water so the place won't support more growth!

Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Article comment by: shaking my head dallas

What do we do as residence to keep new growth out??

Posted: Monday, February 10, 2014
Article comment by: liberal lucy

"I cry when I think of someone cutting down a tree with a wooden handled ax...
what if the handle and the tree were related?
It just makes me want to cry."

Posted: Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Article comment by: two cents

The folks in California are waking up to an unprecedented drought that will impact the entire southwest.
It has always been human nature to ignore the obvious and inevitable until it affects them personally.
Every community in the Verde Valley talks about nothing, but more development, more growth and in Prescott more golf courses.
Nothing on this planet is constant, and that includes the water coming out of our faucets. It is the water that will control everything for everyone's future.
New jobs, new houses, golf courses, parks, should not even be a consideration until we take care of the number one priority, and until we do that we are doomed to a future that created ghost towns all across this nation. Stop putting the cart before the horse, it gets us no where except maybe a hoof in the head.
just my two cents, for what its worth

Posted: Sunday, February 2, 2014
Article comment by: Barnaby Wild

Long term thinkers use caution and value sustainability.
Short term thinkers take risks and value profit.

Posted: Sunday, February 2, 2014
Article comment by: Thank you Doug!

How refreshing to hear at least one elected official talk about "living within our means"!

There is no question in my mind that the overwhelming majority of people living here in the Verde Valley want this. Permanently sustainable water.

And no, we do not want to be paying $500 a month to our water utility just so the Verde Valley can explode with new growth that most of us do not want in the first place.

We want to protect our small town character and quality of life. We like living in small towns. We want to protect the free flowing Verde River.

Living within our means enables us to do all that. It probably means putting realistic limits on growth, including conserving the State Trust land between Cottonwood and Sedona that could otherwise be zoned for a new city of 30,000 to 50,000 people.

But one very important correction is due to Mr. Von Gausig:

No, we in the Verde are not "exactly in the same situation as the rest of the state".

The vast majority of the "rest of the state" (Phoenix and Tucson) has access to the SRP and/or CAP, which are permanently renewable surface water supplies.

Here in the Verde, we are 100% reliant for drinking water on an underground aquifer with a limited capacity, and one that ADWR statistics show is already being unsustainably overdrawn.

(Notable exception: the Town of Jerome, which uses spring water piped in from Mingus Mountain).

So in reality, our situation is much worse than Mr. Von Gausig describes.

The current well drawdown and lowering of our water table proves we can't even sustainably provide water to the population we have now, let alone provide for future growth.

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