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New Report Gives Arizona’s Verde River Watershed a C+

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The Verde River runs 190 miles from Arizona's Chino Valley to the Phoenix metropolitan area, providing drinking water, irrigation and recreation for more than 3 million Arizonans. (JonManjeot/AdobeStock)
The Verde River runs 190 miles from Arizona's Chino Valley to the Phoenix metropolitan area, providing drinking water, irrigation and recreation for more than 3 million Arizonans. (JonManjeot/AdobeStock)
February 27, 2020

COTTONWOOD, Ariz. - Conservationists say a first-of-its-kind report on Arizona's Verde River Watershed provides a clear road map to restoring the iconic stream's ecosystem.

The Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Verde River - along with other stakeholders - produced the report, which gives the river's watershed a letter grade of C+ for the condition of its water, communities and habitat.

Nancy Steele, executive director of the Friends of the Verde River, says the most daunting challenge in the report is improving the river's low stream flow and poor water quality.

"We can't do much about climate change," says Steele. "We can't do much about drought, and we're certainly not going to stop people from moving here. But what we can do is work with property owners, people who live near the river, who are using the water, and we can reduce their water use."

The watershed stretches 190 miles from the Chino Valley to Phoenix, supplying drinking water, irrigation and recreation for more than 3 million Arizonans. The report marks the 50th anniversary of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Kim Schonek, Verde River program director with The Nature Conservancy, says she would like to have seen a higher overall grade for the watershed, but sees it as a starting point for improvements.

"Coming out with a C+, you know, it doesn't feel great, but it also is sort of a reminder that there's a lot of work to be done, but we've also done quite a bit of work," says Schonek. "So, it's a nice balance to rewarding and understanding what we've already done. but also, knowledge that you have work to do."

Steele adds that by using letter grades to rate the watershed, it provides both conservation groups and policymakers a clear indication of what needs to be done.

"Part of it tells us that it's kind of a wake-up call," says Steele. "We need to pay attention to this river or we're going to lose it. And it gives us an opportunity to say here are some specific things that we do need to do. Here are things we can mitigate."

The report was funded by the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and was researched by entities such as the U.S. Forest Service and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. For more information, go to VerdeReportCard.org.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ