My Turn: The time for action to save Verde River is now
On April 4 an informative event took place at Yavapai College. It was titled "The Big Chino Pipeline and the Verde River" and presented by the Verde River Citizens Alliance and Citizens Water Advocacy Group. For those of you who are unacquainted with the Big Chino pipeline, it is a project of the cities of Prescott and Prescott Valley to pump from 8,000 to 11,500 acre feet of water annually from the Big Chino aquifer, the headwaters of the Verde River. In the course of two hours, lots of information was presented.
First off, Bill Meyer, a retired U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist, explained how an aquifer is connected to surface water such as the Verde River. Essentially, water withdrawn from the aquifer, unless accompanied by an increase in recharge, will reduce outflow by an amount equal to withdrawals. As wells are developed in the Big Chino, whether for pipelines or homes, water taken out of the aquifer will increase and it is unlikely water entering in will increase correspondingly. The pipeline's draw of 8,000 to 11,500 acre feet per year is equal to half or more of the Verde River's annual base flow, the flow that happens without any runoff from storms.
Next, Ed Wolfe, retired USGS geologist, used ground water flow paths to show how outflow from the Big Chino basin is the main source of the Verde River. In fact, USGS studies report that it contributes 80-86 percent of the river's base flow.
The scientific information was followed by some economic analysis. Many believe the pipeline is needed for the economic benefit of continued growth. However, economist John Danforth's research shows that while Yavapai County grew faster than 99 percent of the nation's counties from 1980-2006, the average per capita personal income dropped from 86 percent of the national average to only 73 percent.
Who will pay for the pipeline was discussed by Howard Mechanic. According to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Prescott area's aquifer is out of safe yield. In spite of a mandated goal to achieve safe yield by 2025, no water from the pipeline has yet been committed for this purpose.
The cities have stated that unspecified quantities of the water will be used for safe yield and the rest for growth. However, if new development doesn't occur, then the current water users will be stuck with a bill that is presently estimated at over $200 million.
Prescott and Prescott Valley claim that their pumping will do no harm to the Verde River. Yet many scientists, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, believe that wells to monitor water levels and a mitigation plan should be in place before any pumping occurs. Jan Allbright, Verde River Citizens Alliance president and environmental scientist, explained why monitoring wells need to be in service now in key locations to obtain baseline data. If water levels drop in these wells a mitigation plan would require action be taken before the Verde's flow is affected.
Finally, Gary Beverly from the Sierra Club, and Joanne Oellers and Michelle Harrington from the Center for Biological Diversity shared how important the Verde is to our regional ecosystem. Its riparian habitat is one of the world's most rare. Eighty-five percent of the region's wildlife depends on it at some point in their life cycle. Of course, many of us in the Verde Valley depend on it for its recreational opportunities, its irrigation water and its outstanding beauty.
What became clear during the course of the morning is that the Verde River is endangered. Imagine the Verde with little more than the flow from Sycamore Creek passing slowly through Clarkdale and Cottonwood. It would probably not be visible in some areas as the "flow" would be underground. What kind of Verde River do we want - a bright flowing ribbon of life or stagnant puddles harboring West Nile virus? That's a pretty easy choice.
So what can we do to make this choice come true? It will take strong efforts from the citizens of the Verde Valley.
First, tell your friends and neighbors. There are lots of folks unaware of the danger upstream development poses to the Verde River.
Second, become a member of groups working to keep the river flowing. Visit www.verderivervrca.org, savetheverde.org and cwagaz.org for more information.
Finally, raise your voice. Let your legislators, the governor and local officials know that you don't want the Verde to wither and die due to over development and groundwater pumping.
The time for action is now. Please do not delay.
Cottonwood resident Bob Rothrock is a member of the Verde River Citizens Alliance.