24 March, 2007

Waste Water, Get Hotter- Joe Lazaro, Jerome Resident

Spring Break was spent along the Verde River this year. A modest and earnest venture, involving one bikini, a few beers, and a handful of concerned “river culture folk” eager to share with me what it is about the Verde River that makes it an essential and precious hot spot. Citizens and groups are concerned that tapping into the Big Chino Aquifer near Pauldin to fund the expansive water needs of the Prescott and Prescott Valley region will deplenish the Verde Valleys most essential asset, a simple river. The Verde has recently been placed on the endangered rivers list by the Center for Biological Diversity, which claims tapping into the Big Chino Aquifer will dry up the river. Spending time in the Verde Valley is always a sentimental trip for me. A place that is rendered true by people who have either never left the area, or have found the region in a eureka of redemption.
I spent patches of my childhood on the Verde, living in a tent near the water in the summer or going to heavy metal parties down near the now defunct TAPco power plant during the winter months. But when I got older, I could not wait to get out of such a cowpoke town, and silently gravitated to places that had plenty of water. Yet eventually, unforeseen forces drew me back to northern Arizona like a homing pigeon to its masters’ window. Back to the Cornville area where the Oak Creek and Verde converge, and Cottonwood with its lazy twist of Verde. Returning to a region that doesn’t have much water to speak of, I came to value the valley for what it is, a quiet place with a historical identity closely connected to the river.
Some History
The Verde Valley has a rich 1000 year history as an agricultural community naturally connected to the river, beginning with the Hohokam and Sinagua tribes who were attracted to the capability of growing crops along the water. Eventually these tribes disappeared and were replaced by Yavapai, Apache, Navajo and European pioneers. As time passed, farmers entered the Valley region via Prescott and on down through Jerome, to began settlements. Their settled ways proved disruptive and hostile to the Yavapai way of life. Pioneer presence led to Fort Verde, a military encampment built to keep conflict at bay. Fort Verde is now the town of Camp Verde, who also shares in the blessing of the Verde River… The River later played a part in the mining and railroad industry when the Jerome mining smelter was relocated along the water. Farmers and miners battled it out over who had the right to use the surface water. The conflict introduced the state’s hand in water laws that flip flopped every decade or so, to eventually settle that the surface water of the Verde River may be used in a first come, first serve fashion.
Irrigation has been used to deliver water to the crops of the region as far back as 1200 AD. The oldest irrigation ditch is located at Montezuma’s Well, and was used to irrigate the plains of Wet Beaver Creek. Most irrigation ditches were built in the 19th and early 20th century. There are 30 or so ditch diversions on the Verde, Oak, Beaver and West Clear Creek. Currently the primary crops grown in the region are corn, alfalfa, pasture grass, and housing subdivisions. It is enjoyable to find channels of water flowing through ones back yard, or neighborhood open spaces. The ditches flow throughout the valley, giving the area a pleasing yarn of green.
Along with a full and diverse history, The Verde River is home to a lively
riparian habitat, amongst them being the infamous Bald Eagle. (If that isn’t a patriotic reason to keep the Verde River flowing at a healthy untapped pace, what is?) Over 200 species of birds call the Verde River home amongst the Cottonwood and Mesquite. “The quiet and solitude, the thrill of seeing herons, eagles, kingfishers, as well as the other multitude of wildlife that can be seen...badgers, beavers, deer, turtles, all variety of reptiles and amphibians. Listening to the water gurgling or rushing over rocks, watching it rise and muddy after a summer afternoon downpour. Or taking my old flatbed down to Dave Perkin's ranch to pick up newly bailed hay off his river irrigated fields, or enjoying a friend's corn and vegetables grown with river water. It's wondrous, magic, peaceful, healing, sacred, inspirational, majestic, and educational. A provider of so much to plants, animals and humans.... irreplaceable. “Said Jerome City Mayor, Jane Moore of her experiences growing up on the Verde River.
There are a plethora of annual celebrations that dote on the value of life river and its natural habitat. It is a centrally located biking, boating (the home of 13 rapids), and hiking, camping, fishing and general relaxation destination. It is essential to the Verde Valleys’ success as a community.
“The Verde River Corridor is an invaluable resource to the people of the Verde Valley and to the state of Arizona. It is an integral part of life in the Verde Valley affecting each resident, landowner, business and tourist in some way. Planning for the wise use, protection, and enhancement of the Verde River and its associated natural, cultural, scenic, agricultural, economic and recreational resources should be a priority for everyone.” Said Cottonwood Mayor Elect, Diane Joens. “We need to identify and recognize all uses of the Verde River Corridor encourage protection of the Verde River and its natural and cultural resources and promote coordinated decision-making for the continued enjoyment and use of the Verde River by future generations.”
Two opinions are at odds once again over the quiet river. If anyone has ventured south lately into the Prescott Valley area they might notice that Prescott and the quad region is rapidly expanding. With growth, comes the need for water. Since the Prescott area is not part of the Central Water Project, it is bypassed by water being moved towards Phoenix and Tucson. This means it has been left to find its’ water sources elsewhere. These local elsewhere sources include the Big Chino Aquifer. The Big Chino Aquifer includes the baseline water source to the Verde River, a 170 mile or so long stretch of river that happens to be the last free flowing river in Arizona. I am sad to break it to you folks, but the water wars have begun. This local river is in danger of depletion, and is caught in the middle of a water mining/conservation dispute that is documented in regional papers, governmental reports, and research findings. When I was approached by some concerned citizens to write a story about the river and the risk of it’s’ extinction. I was reluctant to look into the information I was sent, not wanting to get involved in the language of politics. But as I looked into the issue more deeply, the findings led me to believe that one must speak up for what they believe in, otherwise it will be taken away. I can not help but hope that if the community of Prescott and the surrounding area were to take the trip over the mountain to the valley to spend a little time along the banks of the river, they would be slower in disregarding nature for the sake of “progress.” Jerome Mayor,
Jane Moore shares her concern from a long standing relationship with water planning.
“I have been on the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee as one of Jerome's appointed council members since its inception in 1999. It was formed originally to help quell the contentious battle over Prescott’s pumping from the Big Chino, which is believed to provide at least 80% of the base flow of the upper Verde from springs just below. And I can still say it continues to be contentious, although we have gained an ability to work together on many water issues. We all at least pledge verbally, and in our written goals, to protect the flowing Verde. But I can't help but wonder sometimes, if that is not just ‘lip service’ by some.”
I spoke with the City of Prescott’s Water Resource Manager, Jim Holt. He explained that Prescott is experiencing an aquifer overdraft from water needs that surpass resources available. That the Big Chino Aquifer would be used to supplement water mining currently used to feed Prescott. Mr. Holt assured me that the process is developing at a thoughtful pace. I wasn’t going to ask this, but how can development claim to be thoughtful when thoughtless acts of poor regional planning repeats itself over and over again?
We welcome any stories, photographs and support to keep the Verde River alive.
Oh hey! The Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival is coming up April 26-29 @ Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Come and be part of our local river culture.
Furthermore, letters to your mayor never hurts, give it a good ole fashioned try!
Prescott Mayor :
Rowle Simmons
201 S.Cortez, Prescott, Az
Cottonwood Mayor:
Ruben Jauregui
821 North Main Street
Cottonwood, AZ 86326

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