First published in Cottonwood Journal Extra on 8-23-23.
Who hasn’t lost something in the water? Whether it was something valuable, like a camera, or inexpensive, like flip flops, it’s a good bet you’ve had the sinking feeling of watching something go overboard.
The following story didn’t happen to me, but I can identify with it.
Last spring, volunteer Greg Yori and Friends’ staff member Cynthia Butler were out at Angel Valley, located midway between Cottonwood and Sedona off Highway 89-A. They were there to collect information on the quality of the water in Oak Creek. This is a place where a lot of people hike and get in the water to cool off, so understanding the health of the water is important.
Following directions, Greg tossed a probe sensor into the stream. As Cynthia got ready to enter the information into our form, she heard Greg say, “Oh no! The probe broke off the wrist strap! I’m jumping in to get it!” In his haste, he forgot that Cynthia’s iPhone was in his pocket and waded in.
The river was flowing with winter snow melt. Greg gasped from the shock of the cold water. Cynthia jumped in as well. An observer might have thought they were river otters, the way they were diving down and popping up, trying to find the expensive, lost probe. After a few times of going in and out of the water with no luck, they began to give up.
Greg was in a panic because he knew the probe was expensive. They brainstormed for a moment and came up with the idea to go grab some yard rakes to scour the river. They thought if they found the probe, they could at least salvage everything but the battery pack.
After getting some rakes at Cynthia’s house and warming up, they climbed back into the cold water. They scoured the bottom of the stream for about 30 minutes with no luck. Cynthia was going to go in for one last attempt. Thinking about how water flows downstream, she raked an area that was roughly 15 ft away from where the probe was tossed. She felt something catch on the rake, pulled it up and sure enough it was the probe! Success! After all that, Greg, Cynthia, the probe, battery pack, and Cynthia’s iPhone were fine.
Greg and Cynthia are part of our Verde Water Watchers program, volunteers that check for water health in the Verde River and its tributaries. They are part of the larger Arizona Water Watchers volunteer program, operated by Arizona Department of Environmental Quality in cooperation with groups like Friends of the Verde River. In 2021, at the request of ADEQ, Friends began monitoring specific locations along lower Oak Creek and Spring Creek.
Our volunteers are trained in the use of some cool equipment, like the probe Greg and Cynthia almost lost. The probe tests water for oxygen, temperature, pH, barometric pressure, and conductivity. These measurements tell us how healthy the water is for living organisms. Our teams also bring water samples back to our lab to test for the presence of bacteria, which is a measure of the safety of the water for humans. This information gives us a basic understanding about stream and river health. Over time, the data will paint a picture of the effects of human use, habitat loss, and a warming climate. This work is vital in preserving the health of our water ways and riparian habitat into the future.
This week, August 20 – 24, is World Water Week. This is a good time to reflect on how we manage water. After all, Water is Life. We can’t live without it. Drought and heat are ever-present worries in Arizona; both have dire impacts on our water quality and quantity. Which ideas, innovations, and systems will we need in a hotter, water scarce world? After all, less than 3.5% of all the water on Earth is fresh water that we can drink. Contamination of fresh water reduces the amount of healthful water for all life.
You can do your part by being thoughtful about the things you might be “losing” in the water, intentionally or not. Some examples include trash left near streams or washes; oils and grease that drips from our cars; and improperly disposed of poop from dogs and humans.
What can you do to help? Take your waste home and throw it in your trash or a covered dumpster. Keep water and pollutants, like fertilizer and pesticides, from flowing off your property. Use biosafe cleaners. And consider joining us as a volunteer.
Taking care to keep pollution out of our waterways is part of River Friendly Living. You can sign up to volunteer and learn more at verderiver.org.
Thanks to Cynthia Butler and Greg Yori for allowing me to tell their story!
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