Verde means “green,” and that’s just what the Verde River is, threading through central Arizona to furnish its arid lands with a lush corridor of rich riparian habitat. Bubbling up from springs fed by the Big Chino aquifer in central Arizona, the Verde winds east and then south, skirting the communities of Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Jerome, Sedona, and Camp Verde. It’s one of Arizona’s few perennial rivers and includes the state’s only Wild and Scenic River segment. It also nurtures habitat essential to imperiled species like the desert nesting bald eagle, southwestern willow flycatcher, and several declining native fishes.
But the Verde is in trouble. The rapidly growing cities of Prescott, Prescott Valley, and Chino Valley plan to tap the Big Chino aquifer, which supplies more than 80 percent of the upper Verde spring flow. These communities would remove upward of 13 million gallons of water per day and transport it through 45 miles of pipeline to quench the thirst of numerous new developments. More developments proposed for Yavapai County have designs on the same water, and pumping from the aquifer could quadruple within the next 20 years. If this happens, the entire river, along with all the species that depend on it, will be fatally affected.
To prevent the Verde from drying up, the Center filed a notice of intent to sue Prescott and Prescott Valley over Endangered Species Act violations in 2004. In 2006, we launched a long-term citizen action campaign to protect the river, generating thousands of letters to decision-makers from concerned Verde River Basin residents and encouraging them to speak up about the Verde at city council meetings. In early 2009, we and our allies attended the Upper Verde River Watershed Protection Coalition meeting to present our position statement and a 19,000-signature petition to save the Verde. And in the spring of that year — on Earth Day, no less — we sued the city of Prescott for its failure to provide documents relating to the Big Chino Water Ranch pipeline construction almost a year after we requested access to them. The withheld documents included reports by the engineers preparing plans for the water pipeline.
We brought the “Save the Verde” message to more than 850 Yavapai County schoolchildren, developing lessons to teach them about the Verde River watershed and the importance of water conservation in Arizona. Letters of hope, gratitude, and devotion to wise water use have flowed in.
The Center aims to ensure that as the pipeline project moves forward, Prescott, Prescott Valley, and Chino Valley will work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a habitat conservation plan and environmental impact statement, which would include measures to protect the Verde’s baseflow and prevent further damage to Verde-dependent endangered species. To execute the habitat conservation plan, the upper Verde River basin communities will ideally form a water-management district that would require smart development decisions and could develop water detention and recharge projects, conservation programs, and water rules and oversight to be implemented throughout the basin. With cooperation from citizens, lawmakers, and development interests, we believe we can save the Verde.