Historic Verde study connects streamflow to river ecology
PRESCOTT - A new study of the Verde River will be the first of its kind in the Southwest, U.S. Geological Survey researchers told the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee at its monthly meeting Wednesday in Prescott.
The study will look at how streamflow changes in the Middle and Upper Verde could affect associated plant and animal life as well as water quality.
For example, it will be able to show what level of streamflow reduction could affect the viability of certain fish and bird species. The reduction could be the result of anything from climate change to groundwater pumping.
The USGS and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) are partnering on the two-year study, with TNC supplying $253,019 and the USGS providing $117,546 and doing the work. TNC also has committed to help pay for phase two of the study that will fill in gaps.
The USGS goal is to provide unbiased science to decision-makers, explained Jim Leenhouts, associate director of the USGS's Arizona Water Science Center. He brought along his research team to the meeting, with members coming from as far away as Seattle and Moab, Utah.
TNC has a shared interest in unbiased science, team member Chris Konrad said.
The USGS already has completed several hydrological studies on the Verde, and it is close to releasing a complex hydrological computer model, Leenhouts said.
The timing of the computer model as well as the high level of interest in the Verde River made this river the choice for this pilot study, said Leenhouts and Prescott TNC representative Dan Campbell.
Connecting hydrology to ecology is the next logical step, Leenhouts said.
"We know that in the real world, things are a continuum," he said.
The agency is designing this pilot study so that it can be duplicated in other watersheds across the Southwest, he added.
The study will build on the groundwork that Northern Arizona University and TNC have laid in preliminary studies of the Verde, Campbell said. Those studies have focused on a handful of sites in the Middle Verde.