VERDE VALLEY - A pilot water conservation pilot program that connects sellers willing to reduce water usage with buyers willing to buy offsetting credits has been launched in Cottonwood.
Called "The Verde River Exchange Water Offset Program," the collaborative effort is administered by the Friends of Verde River Greenway (FVRG) and involves participating wineries Merkin Vineyards and Page Spring Vineyard.
The exchange program was launched by the FVRG and allows water users to purchase credits from willing water users who refrain from using a certain quantity of water for a defined period of time. The reduction is translated into a Water Offset Credit. The Verde River Exchange matches buyers and sellers, creating a voluntary mitigation program for Verde Valley water.
"This is going to save one and one half times the water we are selling," said Doug Von Gausig, director of the Verde River Institute and mayor of Clarkdale. "There's a whole suite of things this exchange can fund: Effluent recharge projects, reclaimed water on town parks and the ability to get grants are leveraged by the exchange."
According to the FVRG, 35 percent of Arizona's river miles no longer flow year-round. It says groundwater makes-up almost half of Arizona's water supply, which puts the Verde River at risk from a growing dependence on groundwater pumping.
"As the population grows, so does the demand for water. There are few tools for communities to manage its use, and so we believe the Verde River Exchange is launching at an opportune time," said Chip Norton, president, FVRG.
So far, Merkin Vineyards and Page Springs Vineyards have each agreed to purchase Water Offset Credits in 2016, offsetting the impact of groundwater use associated with almost 10 acres of vineyard.
"(The Verde Valley) is an oasis in the middle of the desert," said James Keenan of Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards. "We've already shown the undeniable economic impact of the wine industry on Arizona. I hope to raise awareness of our grape growing efforts and to show that this industry is extremely sustainable in terms of long term water conservation."
"Wine has always been, for me, a liquid landscape and a way of expressing the earth," said Eric Glomski, owner and winemaker at Page Springs Cellars and Vineyards. "In the big picture, the river to me is a gigantic indicator and metaphor for the condition of our landscape and our relationship to it."
The program was developed in partnership with and funded by Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy in Arizona and Walton Family Foundation. FVRG serves as the administrator of the program with the guidance of a local advisory council.
"If nothing is done, area water levels and river flows will potentially continue to decline," said Jocelyn Gibbon, a key organizer of the Verde River Exchange and principal of Freshwater Policy Consulting, an organization that provides support to organizations interested in water and natural resource policy and sustainability. "As a community we have the potential to shift this outcome, preserve a flowing river and protect water supplies, while still promoting sustainable economic development. We are so excited to be working with community leaders on this project."
FVRG is a Cottonwood non-profit that works on a range of programs that include habitat improvement, channel restoration, flow restoration, sustainable river recreation and community outreach.
For more information about the Verde River Exchange, visit www.verderiverexchange.org or contact Jocelyn Gibbon at (602) 908-7818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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