When two conservation groups prepared a “report card” assessing the health of the Verde River watershed, they gave it a C-plus.
The groups will now receive $1.2 million to help boost that score, supporting their efforts to restore and protect the river.
The Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Verde River announced the grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, saying the funds will be used for projects such as water-saving irrigation systems, a voluntary water “exchange” geared toward helping the Verde, and work to reduce the amount of sediment that flows off the landscape into the river.
The Verde River sustains a lush riparian corridor of cottonwoods and willows, an oasis that teems with birds and attracts people who paddle its currents and wade into its muddy shallows. The river also faces a range of pressures as water is diverted for farms growing crops such as alfalfa and corn, and as groundwater is pumped to supply growing communities in the Verde Valley.
“It’s pretty healthy overall. But we know that that’s at risk. As we think about climate change, and this is our second year in a row without monsoons, what does that mean for the river?” said Kim Schonek, Verde River program director for The Nature Conservancy. “We know that more people mean more groundwater pumping. And so, what are the things that we can do to mitigate for that?”
There are a number of ways to improve the watershed’s condition, Schonek said, and the funding will help the nonprofits move forward with those efforts.
“This allows for us to continue growing and developing and implementing projects,” Schonek said. “This funding lets us come to the table as a conservation organization and say, ‘Here are things that we can actively do together to make improvements.’”
The groups plan to use some of the funds to improve agricultural water efficiency by sealing canals and installing water-saving irrigation systems on farms. They’ve previously helped growers install sprinkler systems that use less water.
The nonprofits have also been working on community efforts to put greater focus on the watershed’s health and water conservation in decisions about land use planning.
As they’ve examined the watershed, the groups have cited soil erosion in upland areas as a problem. They plan to use the funds on projects that will fill eroded washes with rocks and other materials to slow runoff, reducing the amount of sediment that goes into the river.
The watershed “report card” (which is available at VerdeReportCard.org) was prepared by researchers working with The Nature Conservancy, Friends of the Verde River and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. When they…