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Arizona’s water challenges mean that every drop counts

Every Drop Counts explores the complex puzzle of Arizona’s water challenges and how groups like The Nature Conservancy are working to maximize efficiency so there is water for our future.
The resource that fuels our daily lives begins with a thunderstorm or snowfall on the mountains. It brings life to our daily lives, powers our communities, lifestyles and recreation and provides our drinking water. Water is our most precious resource and a resource that is becoming scarce. A drought that began in 1999 has reduced available surface water. Our overgrown forests and devastating fires are stealing from the watersheds. The explosive population growth is increasing demands while the supply becomes more stressed.

The outlook for the state depends on the water conservation decisions we make today – Every Drop Counts.

Water from the mighty Colorado River supplies the 336 mile Central Arizona Project canal system carrying water to Phoenix and Tucson. It supplies our daily water needs, it delivers water to irrigate our farms and drives our economy. But Arizona isn’t the only state depending on the water from the Colorado River. Seven western states depend on the water it brings to the west and all seven, along with Mexico, have a voice in deciding how water will be used. Every drop of the Colorado is spoken for and it struggles to reach its delta in the Gulf of California causing devastating effects on wildlife and the people in the area who depend on it.

Historically those who manage Arizona’s water have been asked to find additional sources of water. That task is becoming increasingly more difficult and very expensive. According to Patrick Graham of The Nature Conservancy in Arizona, “If we become increasing reliant on groundwater it is a slow road to hell and there is no way back from that.”

Arizona needs to focus on protecting the waterways wholly in Arizona. The Verde and Salt River systems combine to meet about 30% of the Metro Phoenix water needs. They don’t hold as much water as the Colorado but Arizona has complete control over how the water is used. The Nature Conservancy in Arizona (NCA) is bringing science to solve our water problems and is working with the state, communities and business to make the most of Arizona’s resources. NCA works closely with farmers in the Verde Valley and downstream communities to manage resources.

The Verde Valley is home to the 600 acer Hauser & Hauser Farm. The Hauser family began farming the land in the 1960’s. Zach Hauser stands on land freshly planted with sweet corn, one of the things the farm is known for. He knows the Verde River is the only water supply for the farm. The river and the good climate make the Verde Valley a great place to grow corn. Recognizing the importance of the Verde River in meeting the needs for his farm, as well as the community, Hauser is involved in keeping the river flowing and conserving the resource.

Agriculture in Arizona is important both as a food source and as a major economic contributor. About 70% of Arizona’s water needs go to farming. Working to make the use of water for farming more efficient translates to big savings.

Kim Schonek, NCA, explains the dilemma of taking water from the Verde River and delivering it to the farms in an efficient way. Technology is being used to operate a head gate to channel water to the farms in a controlled way to supply what is needed without wasting water. The result is to leave more water in the river for fish and wildlife while still meeting the needs of agriculture in the Verde Valley.

The Hauser farm uses flood irrigation to supply the needs of the farm but, along with the help of NCA, they are exploring the possibility of a drip irrigation system on six acers of the farm to see if it will be more efficient. Hauser is committed to having a sustaining farm for years to come and recognizes the importance of making the most of the water in the Verde River.

The Nature Conservancy in Arizona works hand in hand with agriculture, conservation and municipalities in finding solutions to Arizona’s water needs. While it might not always be easy, coming together to find solutions is a powerful tool when all concerned groups work together.

Snow and rainfall in Arizona’s high country forests are critical to the water supply. But with much of the forests overgrown less water is able to flow downstream. The Nature Conservancy in Arizona is bringing technology to the woods.

Neil Chapman, NCA, explains the size and importance of the Ponderosa Pine forests in northern Arizona. Over two million acers of continuous Ponderosa Pine stretch across northern Arizona and into New Mexico, making it the largest in the world. It is an important watershed for snowpack and rain that drains into the Salt and Verde Rivers. There is a strong connection between overgrown forests and water supply. Trees in the forest are like straws taking water from the water supply. An overgrown forest takes more water from the supply.

The NCA is working with private logging operations to thin overgrown areas. Their efforts with projects like the Four Forest Restoration Initiative are helping the forests return to healthy levels providing better forests for the wildlife living there and more water downstream for Arizonans. The overgrowth of the forest is much more susceptible to catastrophic fire. The thinning reduces the number of trees per acre leaving them in groups so if one tree is stuck lightning and burns it is less likely to start the entire forest on fire. Fire is devastating to the watersheds.

The way Arizona is thinning its forests is combining science, technology and the logging industry to change the model of logging used for the last 100 years. The Nature Conservancy, the logging industry and Forest Service are working together to save our forests and conserve our water in both the Verde River and Salt River.

Having a clean healthy water supply in Arizona takes cooperation from federal, state and local levels. It is all about striking a balance. A healthy environment and a healthy economy are keys to our long term success. Water is vital to our communities, our food production and us as people. It is our most precious resource. Graham, The Nature Conservancy in Arizona, says water is the most important natural resource globally. It is becoming the new oil.

To protect our water resources NCA is asking Arizona corporations and communities to invest in a Water Fund that benefits both the Salt and Verde Rivers. The people living in the Valley of the Sun benefit from the waters of the Verde and Salt Rivers. That water is impacted by the way the forests and farming are managed upstream. The Water Fund brings upstream and downstream users together to find solutions. We are all part of the same water system and must work together to close the gap in supply and demand.

A severe drought in the 1890’s before Arizona was a state, led leadership to streamline the dam and canal systems that manage our water today. We are in a drought again and find ourselves at a crossroads where progressive ideas can help water conservation because Every Drop Counts.

We are all interconnected and how we manage and address our forests can create a difference in the quality of our natural resources. Planning is important from how we grow as a state to how we protect and use our water. Using resources as efficiently as possible requires everybody coming to the table to find solutions. Arizona must continue to act.

When three or four million people act together it can make a huge difference in how resources are expended. What we do as individuals can make a difference. Sharing what we do individually with friends and family and on social media can make a difference. Letting our leaders and legislature know our thoughts and feelings can lead to change. We all must get involved.

Supporting The Nature Conservancy in Arizona can make a difference. Visit their website at www.nature.org to find out conservation ideas you can do individually, in your home, workplace and community. There are many ways to contribute besides membership. If you shop online with Amazon you can select The Nature Conservancy as the charitable organization Amazon donates to through their AmazonSmile program.

Patrick Graham of NCA says for a long time people thought protecting nature was something you did from people. He says NCA sees it differently. They see it as protecting nature for people. We are all interconnected and we are dependent on nature. And anymore nature is dependent on people in so many different ways.

Everything is connected; water, soil, forests and wildlife and even the bustling populations in rural and metro areas. If we alter one of those elements there is a ripple effect with the others, but the change can be positive.