Verde River, Clarkdale. Photo by Doug Von Gausig

Every once in a while all the dots connect and we have a clear vision of what the image looks like. In regards to the water resources in the Southwestern United States the dots are lining up and our water-resource future is clear. The conclusions and recommendations from a series of studies and reports on future water availability in the southwest puts into perspective the critical need to change how we manage our water supplies as a region and locally. It is critical that our water-resource managers use all the management tools available in order to maximize and sustain the resource. The Northern Arizona Regional Groundwater-Flow Model is one of those tools.

In 1950 the Verde Valley had a little over 250 groundwater wells; today we have over 6400 wells. The effects of our past water-management decisions are clear, they just have not worked. The choice for the future, as indicated by resource experts throughout the Colorado River Basin, is clear. Understand the extent of our water resources, plan and manage regionally for the future today, identify options available and potential cost, acknowledge that population growth and water-resource management are linked, that although conservation is a very important option it is not the total answer and that our precious groundwater and surface waters are interconnected.

The regional and local studies and reports that have been released demonstrate that water-management experts, hydrologists, geologists, and government agencies are now realizing that our current water resources will not be adequate. As the population of the southwest continues to expand the entire Colorado River Basin will require new management techniques and expensive additional water to augment our current supplies. This need represents the combined opinions of water-resource management professionals represented in three different reports. The Verde River Basin, which is a sub-basin of the Colorado River Basin, includes all of the Verde Valley and Sedona areas which are impacted by the results of  these reports.

In December 2012 the Bureau of Reclamation in collaboration with the seven states, that included Arizona, that are members of the Colorado River Compact released their Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study . The experts in this study used various modeling tools including computerized groundwater-flow models. The study highlighted that currently the surface waters and groundwaters of the basin supply water to at least 40 million people and that in the next fifty years that number could be as high as 78 million; then the basin will require an additional 3.2 million acre-feet (an acre-foot is 325,841 gallons) of water.

The report states: “The study confirms that the Colorado River Basin faces a range of potential future imbalances between supply and demand. Addressing such imbalances will require diligent planning and cannot be resolved through any single approach or option.” The study went on to highlight that under every computer scenario considered they used, the Lower Basin states, Arizona, California and Nevada, will require additional supplies.

In October of 2011 the Arizona Water Resources Development Commission released its final report. Members of the commission represented a broad spectrum of water- resource experts, government agencies and interested stakeholders. The commission’s consensus report evaluated all of Arizona’s water resources including its allocation of Colorado River water.

The Commission report stated: “The current challenge facing Arizona is that, although the state has a solid water foundation, future economic development is anticipated to increase demand for water. Arizona is not unique among the arid states in facing this challenge to identify water supplies to meet future demands. The inherent diversity, variability and complexity within Arizona make meeting this challenge difficult.”

The report estimated that the state’s population will grow from its current level of just over 6.4 million to 12 million in 2035 and over 18 million by 2110. This will require development of additional water supplies while other regions of the southwest are also seeking water to meet their growing demand. It also comes during a period during which shortages are expected on the Colorado River high cost augmentation projects will be necessary. Concerning availability of water from the Colorado River a report footnote states: “Actual development (of the resource) is unlikely unless flow of river is augmented.”

The report identifies the Verde River Basin as a basin that may require development of additional water supplies. Potential future water supplies available for the basin are: “In-Basin Groundwater, In-State Surface Water, Reclaimed Water, Development of Other Supplies-Unknown.” Each of these concepts has an economic and environmental impact that requires our attention now.

The final study by the Bureau of Reclamation in collaboration with the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee is the Central Yavapai Highlands Water Resource Management Study. The study is ongoing but preliminary data gives us some insight into our future water demand by 2050. Due to increased population growth there will be an unmet water demand by 2050 of over 45,000 acre-feet within the Verde River Basin. Finding solutions to this unmet demand will require a level of cooperation and vision that we have not seen to date.

Based on the findings of the reports cited above our water management course should be clear. We share a common resource and that resource cannot be managed in a fragmented process. These reports dispel the notion that we have a lot of time. Although we have water resources for today’s population we clearly must plan for the future. Coordinated planning on a regional basis is the only way we will be able to meet unmet water demands and sustain our valuable surface waters.

Tom O’Halleran
Chairman, Verde River Basin Partnership

Article Appeared in the March 2013 Villager Newspaper

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Middle Verde River by Doug Von Gausig