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home : opinions : opinions May 24, 2016

4/27/2013 1:05:00 PM
My Turn: Now we know and now is time to take action
Without change we will continue to have additional impacts to the Verde River, its tributaries, our municipal and individual groundwater wells and the costs associated with development of new water supplies.
Without change we will continue to have additional impacts to the Verde River, its tributaries, our municipal and individual groundwater wells and the costs associated with development of new water supplies.
By Tom O’Halleran

Now we know that the groundwaters and surface waters of the Verde River Watershed are being used at a higher rate than the system can be recharged.

The recently released United States Geological Survey’s (USGS): Human Impacts On The Verde River’s Streamflow, 1910 Through 2109: Applying the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Arizona Regional Groundwater-Flow Model findings we have a clear indication of how we are impacting our water resources. Since 1910 we have steadily been decreasing our groundwater supplies and surface waters.

Now we know that if we continue to mismanage our water supplies we will experience increasing impacts to our groundwater and surface waters and not be able to sustain flows in the Verde River.

The findings, using conservative water demand estimates, indicate that in areas around Cottonwood, Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek water level declines in excess of 100 feet over the next 100 years, will occur.

We should look at these findings as a cause for alarm and opportunity. Alarm since we now must acknowledge that to date our water resources management process has failed and that we require new management options. Without change we will continue to have additional impacts to the Verde River, its tributaries, our municipal and individual groundwater wells and the costs associated with development of new water supplies.

The recent findings make it clear that during the summer, in the not to distant future, the Verde River will have sections within the Verde Valley that will go dry, due to decreasing surface water flows and water diversions for irrigation.

The decreasing flows are due to groundwater pumping in the Verde Valley as well as in the Prescott and Big Chino areas near the headwaters of the Verde River.

Now we know that the USGS findings were based on extremely conservative estimates of additional water demands in the region. Based on a current Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) study the Verde River Watershed population will increase to almost 600,000 by 2050 from a population of just over 200,000 in 2006.

Domestic and commercial demand for water is projected to more than double with the increased population. The recently released phase of the report on water supply alternatives indicated that since water demand for 2050 already included additional conservation measures additional conservation was not part of 2050 water supply alternatives.

The USGS report only used half of the projected additional demand in its findings. In one of the groundwater model runs the USGS used no additional water demand which still resulted in significant impacts to our water resources.

The Verde River Basin Partnership, which commissioned the study, and the USGS used these conservative estimates so the results would be accepted in the community and there would be no accusations of “cooking the books.”

The fact is that groundwater pumping is having significant impacts on the viability of our water supplies. Now we know that our past water management practices have failed. There is a need for change and that current Arizona water law fails to recognize the fact that groundwater and surface water are connected.

The weaknesses inherit in Arizona’s water law to protect surface water flows were just recently highlighted in the area of the San Pedro River in southern Arizona near the community of Sierra Vista.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) made a determination that there was an adequate water supply for a massive new housing development in the region.

As part of its determination ADWR could not take into account the impact of additional groundwater pumping to the sustainability of the San Pedro River. This is the same Arizona statute that is currently used for determination of water adequacy in the Verde River Watershed. In our region we say that the Verde River is a “state treasure;” the citizens of the San Pedro region say “The Upper San Pedro River is the lifeblood of this region.” The lesson learned: “Currently we cannot look to the State of Arizona to protect our surface water supplies.”

Now that we know our water resource future is at risk we need to take this opportunity to change how we view our water resources and develop a comprehensive management approach. Besides acknowledging the facts we need to create a cooperative environment that recognizes our water resources do not adhere to man-made jurisdictional boundaries.

The reality is that if we are to sustain and preserve our water resources cooperative solutions need to be developed on a watershed scale.

The USGS findings highlight that collaborative involvement by all our regions water resource managers is necessary to preserve our economic viability, quality of life, surface water rights, recreation and wildlife opportunities and the groundwaters and surface waters of our collective watershed.

Now we know and now is the time to take action. We need to institute regional water management programs, develop regional conservation programs, institute water efficient irrigation practices, acknowledge that land use planning and water resource management are interconnected, acquire lands for conservation and protect the natural habitat of rivers and creeks.

These are just a few of the may options available to us. We should not be in denial. To take advantage of the USGS findings we need to act now while our options are less costly and there is still a chance to sustain our water resources.

Time is of the essence. If we choose to keep going down our current path time will be our enemy.

We need to stop blaming others and acknowledge that solutions require an approach of working together.

We share a common resource; let us now realize a sustainable future.

For more information on the USGS findings go to the Verde River Basin Partnership’s website at www.vrbp.org and join us at Facebook.com/verderiverbasinpartnership.

Community organizations can contact us at info@vrbp.org to schedule presentations.

Tom O’Halleran is the Chairman of the Verde River Basin Partnership.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, May 6, 2013
Article comment by: Slater Slater

Always trust the Gov and bidders.They have nothing to gain.The important projects will never do a fact finding if it doesn't correspond
to their great minds.EGO's will be crushed.
After all they'll be out of GOV when the bills
roll in.

Posted: Sunday, May 5, 2013
Article comment by: Slater Slater

Lets build like never before.It's getting late in
the game and theres millions to be made.After all you can reap the rewards and move to a state with plenty of clean water.
Leave your morals at the development and planning office.They'll take your money to.It's
just business and politics.

Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013
Article comment by: Cost of Wastewater Plant

The cost of Dan Lueder's wastewater plant at riverfront park will come in closer to the $16 mil quoted here than the $8 mil that he keeps telling the City Council. Dan knows this. The engineers know this. In the back of their minds, some of the Council even question this. Yet, for some reason, they are too intimidated to seek independent verification of what Mr. Lueder continues to tell them. Better to admit that they need a new plan now than to keep spending money on a fool's errand.

Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Article comment by: A reality check @ reality check ~

The back of the envelope is one thing... but outright doubling or more the reported cost of the water reclamation facility is very misleading.

The figures in the paper have been about 1/2 of your now published estimate.

Care to correct your figures?

Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Article comment by: Reality check on land value

Reality check needed on land costs.

The per acre value definitely varies based on location, but a quick review of other very large land parcels listed on MLS in the Verde show something more on the order of $5,000 per acre would probably be very generous in the current market.

Based on that, the total for this parcel would be more like $32 million. Half that amount is eligible for funding from the Arizona Preserve Initiative.

So by this back of the envelope guesstimate, we're maybe talking about a range of $16 to $32 million plus or minus, potentially shared by the combined communities of the Verde, and possibly by a much wider base that cares about protecting the Verde River.

To put this in perspective, Cottonwood alone may spend close to $16 million just on the Riverfront sewage treatment plant.

Anyone care to venture a guess as to how much importing water from some far away source would cost, if that is even available? Rest assured that $32 million or even $100 million is a tremendous bargain compared to that cost.

I believe the majority of Arizonans statewide would agree the Verde is a treasure. No one wants to see it dry up due, including the people in Prescott.

We should at least consider the possibility that API funding might be available, and even if it is not, we should at least consider the idea of conserving this Trust land as part of our comprehensive water strategy and planning.

Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Article comment by: @ 17 water groups- .

even the best calculators make mistakes... hah...again a good reason not to trust a single source for data or interpretation.

Thanks for the correction.... any more millions and billions are not far apart on some scales.

Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Article comment by: 17 Water Groups?

To "@preserve state trust": just to keep us all honest, $99 million is a long way from $1 billion - it's $901 million shy.

Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Article comment by: @ preserve state trust- .

Great point- indeed some state trust land (1543 acres per your link cost of $24,100,000) was auctioned and purchased for addition to an existing preserve area.

Now consider this- the 10 square miles you are talking about equals 6400 acres. If one assumes about the same cost per acre you will need $99,961,113.00 to preserve the area, just shy of 1 billion? Of course the cost per acre may vary.

Obviously your position seems to be set in stone and appears to have little room for compromise- at least per previous articles the city appears to be doing its best to meet your concerns at least halfway. As we have seen in our esteemed national congress- negotiation never seems to be very productive when one side is intractable in their position.

We can only hope that the future might hold some cooperation but only time will tell.

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Article comment by: Preserve State Trust Land

The City of Cottonwood will continue to spew its same old line "we have to annex the Trust Land because the State HAS to sell it for development, and we need local control of how it develops."

Ridiculous! The most recent sale of State Trust Land was for CONSERVATION purposes:


And, you can bet the State of Arizona knows that more housing development is not the "highest and best use" of a piece of property in an area that is already mining its groundwater! The State knows that we are already overdrafting the groundwater in the Verde Valley, and so does the City of Cottonwood. To continue to push for this annexation is a slap in the face of all who live here. Complete irresponsibility of the City of Cottonwood, its Mayor, Council Members and City Manager.

There is no rush to develop that State Trust Land. The City of Cottonwood only want to hurry it along because they know that they longer it takes, the more information people will have. They don't want us to know or accept the truth about the fragile state of our local water supplies. They just want to get that land platted for development so they can add more population (=money!) to their city.

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Article comment by: Frank Lee Confused

Vince, I assume you are advocating no population control. Being a math person I can assure you that unlimited population growth is not only unsustainable, it will result in tremendous human and non human suffering.

The question isn't COULD we develop every square yard of the Verde Valley the question is SHOULD we develop every square yard of the Verde Valley.

Think about it for a while. It has nothing to do with UN conspiracies.

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Article comment by: Jon Doe

The Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists always amaze me at their resistance to considering reality. I think "Buy the state trust lands..." is at least being realistic in that he/she realizes we will not have the Verde River eventually, or that others will not have productive wells for their water source if all that land is developed to include a population of 25,000-50,000. If that is what happens, then you definitely will be controlled in just how much water you may use (by its pricing, of course), and you definitely will not have your own well to decide how you use your water. It certainly seems to me, the greater the population, the less control anyone has over their future.

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Article comment by: Slater Slater

The water is ours.How we use it depends on the use of the land.If theres a buck to be made
it's the politicians that own the water not us.Do the math.The politicians will always sell us down the river if they aren't paid off in some manner.Time to wake up for sure.Why do
you think their all lawyers?

Posted: Monday, April 29, 2013
Article comment by: Popultaion Control Is key to Water

I don't know anything about a UN agenda, but i totally agree that we need to control population growth, both the influx of outsiders and the production of new human beings. We sure as heck don't need another 25,000 people here in the Verde Valley. Zero population growth will preserve our water longer than anything. Two kids per couple. Stop encouraging big development or any development outside of municipal boundaries. Tell people where to live? We've been doing that for years. Where you can build, how you can build and what you grow. Look how much of our prime ag land in in a Park of some sort. Heck, Dead Horse was a ranch, a working ranch and now no one can live on it. Was that a great decision?

Posted: Monday, April 29, 2013
Article comment by: @ buy the state trust land... .

Folks might do well to read up on the State Trust Land System, and the term of 'highest and best use'.


"The Commission concluded that Arizona should not sell its Trust land outright, as other states had done. Instead, it should put the lands to their "highest and best use." The decision to sell or lease the land should be based upon the potential use of each parcel."

Posted: Monday, April 29, 2013
Article comment by: Vince Broud

Once again Tom O'Halleran is here, followed immediately by his 'sock puppet' (Buy the State Trust land to conserve as water resource), pushing his agenda of population control (U.N. Agenda 21) under the guise of "regional water management programs". He wants you to put control of your water in the hands of un-elected bureaucrats who will then tell you where you can live or not live. It is not about water conservation. It is about population control.

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