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by Nancy L.C. Steele, Executive Director

What is resilience? And how is it different from sustainability? I had recent cause to ponder the distinction. This summer, I was notified that Friends of the Verde River was going to receive the 2022 Resilience Prize from the ASU Knowledge Exchange for Resilience. We couldn’t tell anyone until the award ceremony, however. It was hard not to share the good news right away!

On November 17th, Friends’ board and staff traveled to Phoenix’s Orpheum Theater for a festive evening, complete with a “green room” for awardees and reserved seating in the Theater. ASU Resilience Fellows presented posters of their research and were recognized on stage. 

Dan Heath gave the keynote speech. He is the author of Upstream: the quest to solve problems before they happen, and co-author with Chip Heath of two of my favorites, Made to Stick: why some ideas survive and others die and Switch: how to change things when changes is hard. 

For the finale, I was introduced by Greg Burton, executive editor of The Arizona Republic; they showed our video and allowed me to say a few words of thanks.  It was a great honor. But why us? Previous honorees included the Maricopa County Public Health Department, United Dairyman of Arizona, and Arizona Food Bank Network, among others. 

The ASU Knowledge Exchange for Resilience “is committed to solving our most perplexing problems through use-inspired research that builds community resilience.” The Prize honors one or more organizations for their efforts to improve community resilience and build prosperity in Arizona. 

Why was Friends of the Verde River given the 2022 Resilience Prize? ASU singled us out for our “collaborative, data-driven work to ensure the long-term health of one of Arizona’s last free-flowing rivers,” the Verde River. Our work builds community resilience by keeping the rivers flowing. 

As you probably know, the Verde and the Salt River provide about 40-50 percent of the drinking water for the Phoenix metropolitan area. As Arizona receives less and less of its water from the Colorado River, it will have to rely more on its other water sources, including the Verde. 

Friends of the Verde River is literally working upstream to help Arizona solve a downstream problem, the reduction of water supplies in its largest metropolitan region, greater Phoenix. And yet, the Verde River is in danger itself of drying up, having its summertime water flow decline by some 41 percent since 1990. 

ASU noted our collaborative work in creating the Verde Watershed Report Card, which helps us to tell the story about the decline in river flows and inspire others to join us in our work to save the Verde. They also noted a few other things we do, like inspiring people and businesses to be River Friendly.

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