Frequently Asked Questions
Friends of the Verde River (Friends) is a non-profit community group based in Cottonwood, Arizona, working collaboratively to restore habitat, sustain river flows, and promote community stewardship in support of a healthy Verde River system. Friends envisions a healthy, flowing Verde River and tributaries that support our unique environment, vibrant economy, and quality of life for future generations.
The Verde River Exchange is a voluntary water offset program that allows Verde Valley residents and businesses to reduce their water “footprint” and the collective impacts of groundwater pumping on the Verde River. The program functions through an offset mechanism involving “sellers” and “buyers” that reduces the amount of water removed from the river and the groundwater system.
Willing water users, “sellers,” voluntarily agree to not use a certain quantity of water for a defined period of time. The water that is not used is recorded as a Water Offset Credit that is held by the Exchange. A groundwater user (“buyer”) who wishes to “offset” the impact of their new or existing use— and thus reduce their water footprint—can purchase the credit. The Exchange issues a Water Offset Certificate to Buyers to recognize their participation in the program.
Left unchecked, groundwater pumping in the Verde Valley and surrounding region threatens to dry up stretches of the Verde River in our lifetime. Already, baseflow of the Verde River has decreased due to groundwater pumping, five miles of flowing river have been lost, and Verde Valley well levels are dropping. Losing a healthy, flowing Verde River would harm the Verde Valley’s economy as well as the beauty and character of the region. The Verde River Exchange gives Verde Valley residents the opportunity to restore balance to Verde Valley water management through a locally grown solution designed to fit the specific problem facing the Verde River.
First and foremost, participating in the Verde River Exchange helps to keep water flowing in the Verde River. Because the Verde River is an economic driver in the Verde Valley, keeping the river flowing protects the Verde Valley’s economic future. Additionally, participation in the Verde River Exchange demonstrates and promotes sustainable economic development, which will allow the Verde Valley to flourish for generations to come. While the impact of any one offset project is small, every new participant builds momentum and power behind this locally driven effort to preserve the Verde River.
Almost all groundwater users in the Verde Valley can participate in the Verde River Exchange by purchasing Water Offset Credits and thus helping to offset the collective impact of their groundwater use. Because most of the water used in Verde Valley homes and businesses is groundwater (directly from a well, or from a water provider whose water comes from wells), almost every Verde Valley resident and business can participate in the Exchange.
There are two additional factors that determine whether a Verde Valley groundwater user is eligible for participation in the Exchange. First, groundwater uses offset through the Exchange program must be located within the Exchange program area and in a geographic zone where mitigation is available for the year (determined by contacting the Exchange).
The second factor relates to the date of the water use. All existing uses of groundwater—those established prior to January 1, 2015—are eligible. New uses (established January 1, 2015 or after) are eligible to be offset through the Exchange if they are outside of the immediate floodplain (what the Exchange refers to as the “Holocene zone”) close to the river. If you have questions, the best way to determine your eligibility is to contact the Exchange.
Please Note: Because the Exchange is a new program, Water Offset Credits will be created based on annual demand; availability therefore may be limited and depends on the location and particular water use of the potential participant.
Surface water users may be able to participate in the Verde River Exchange as “sellers” by helping to generate Water Offset Credits. (See #7 below.)
Buyers purchase Water Offset Credits through the Exchange, restoring water to the Verde system and reducing their water “footprint.” To participate as a buyer, please submit an application or contact the Exchange for a consultation or more information. A detailed description of the process is available here.
To participate as a “seller” in the Verde River Exchange—and thus help generate Water Offset Credits—you must be a water user in the Verde Valley who has beneficially used water in recent years and is interested in making a voluntary decision to cease or reduce your water use for a defined period of time—from a few months to a full irrigation season— in return for a modest payment. Most sellers have been using surface water (water diverted from a stream or river, usually through a ditch) though some groundwater uses can be eligible. For more information, please see this process description or contact the Exchange.
The cost to purchase Water Offset Credits is based on how much it costs the Verde River Exchange to develop and administer projects that benefit streamflows in the Verde River. Payments by buyers partially cover these costs. While there is not currently a fixed cost, a Water Offset Credit representing an offset of an acre-foot of groundwater use can cost between $125 and $375.
As a business or individual participant, there are many benefits to working with the Verde River Exchange. Participation generates conservation results for the Verde River and demonstrates local watershed stewardship, while also offering a way to enhance brand value and visibility in the Verde Valley. Participants in the Exchange can be profiled on Friends of the Verde River’s website, social media, and promotional materials and also benefit from networking events with other Verde Valley leaders. For more information, see “Benefits to Participants.”
A Water Offset Credit represents a volume of water that is expected to be returned to the Verde River Watershed’s surface stream and groundwater systems as a result of a seller’s voluntary change in water use. Water Offset Credits are measured in acre-feet, are temporary, and are issued on an annual basis. Buyers purchase Water Offset Certificates that represent the creation of a certain volume of Water Offset Credits.
No. Payment for Water Offset Credits does not validate or guarantee the legal status of water rights or uses. Water use must still comply with all applicable laws, including Arizona water law. Water uses in the Verde River Watershed are subject to the Gila River General Stream Adjudication, which will determine the validity, extent, and priority date of water rights in the watershed. More information about the Gila River General Stream Adjudication can be obtained from the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
No. Creation of Water Offset Credits through Friends’ Water Offset Program does not constitute a purchase, lease, shared use, transfer, or exchange of water or water rights.
No, you may choose to pay for Water Offset Credits to offset all or a portion of your water use. For example, small businesses may wish to offset water associated with a specific product or aspect of their business. Homeowners may wish to offset only water used inside the home.
Participants in the Verde River Exchange purchase Water Offset Credits on an annual basis. Purchase of a Water Offset Credit allows the participant to offset their water use for the calendar year in which the Water Offset Certificate recognizing the purchase is issued.
Each Water Offset Credit is tracked in an internal registry to ensure that the benefits associated with the Credit are attributed only to one unique buyer. The Exchange is working with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to develop a process for third-party registration of credits. As well as signing a legally binding contract, sellers agree to a monitoring program to ensure that agreed-to changes in water use were actually completed.
Friends of the Verde River envisions a healthy, flowing Verde River and tributaries that support our unique environment, vibrant economy, and quality of life for future generations. We believe that to achieve that vision, community members and stakeholders need to come together to develop the right solutions and pathways to implement them. The Verde River Exchange provides one tool, and possibly the kernel of a long-term solution that achieves both a flowing river and vibrant Verde Valley economy. It demonstrates a mechanism that could allow new water users to come into the system while protecting existing uses and river flows. The Verde River Exchange is also an example of a locally grown solution to the challenges facing the Verde River and surrounding communities. As Arizona’s policymakers and natural resource managers work to find solutions to Arizona’s water issues on a regional and state-wide scale, the Verde River Exchange demonstrates the power of local leadership and innovation in water management.