The plan by Prescott area municipalities to pump groundwater from the Big Chino aquifer has landed the Verde River on a list of America's 10 most endanger rivers. The 10 Most Endanger Rivers list is prepared yearly by the conservation group American Rivers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of rivers and streams. The official announcement was made this morning in Washington, D.C.
"We see this an opportunity to draw national attention to the Verde and the failure of the Prescott area cities to make plans to mitigate the pumping," said Michelle Harrington of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of American Rivers' partners in protecting the upper Verde.
According to a statement released by American rivers, the proposed Big Chino Water Ranch Project, a plan to transfer groundwater from the Big Chino Basin to the communities of Prescott and Prescott Valley, will have a serious impact on the flow of the upper Verde River.
The project calls for pumping somewhere between 8,000 and 12,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year through a 30-mile long pipeline to supply Prescott and Prescott Valley the water needed for future growth.
The Arizona Department Water Resources determined in 1998 that the Prescott and Prescott Valley communities were depleting their own aquifer faster than it could be restored, a condition known as water mining.
By virtue of a clause placed in the 1990 Groundwater Transportation Act, the Prescott area has the legal authority to pump groundwater from the Big Chino basin.
According to American Rivers, the reduced flows in the upper Verde River will "reduce the availability of clean waterŠdiminish the recreational opportunities on the river and threaten the health of many native fish and wildlife species."
The upper Verde River is home to a growing population of bald eagles and several endangered species of native fish.
According to a recent U.S. Geological Service report, the Big Chino supplies 80 percent of the flows of the upper river. That share drops to 10 percent at the Camp Verde gauging station.
American Rivers is calling on the Army Corps of Engineers and the Fish and Wildlife Service to complete a thorough Environmental Impact Statement addressing the project's impact on both riparian species, and species affected by the pipeline.
They are also calling for full implementation of Prescott's Reasonable Growth Initiative, Prop 400, by the end of this year.
The initiative, passed by Prescott voters in 2005, calls for a 60-day public comment period and a three-fourths majority vote by the Prescott city council in order to annex any new land over 250 acres.
It also calls for all effluent generated in annexed areas to be used for permanent recharge of the aquifer, as opposed to applying it towards further development.
American Rivers began identifying endangered rivers in 1986. Their 10 most endangered list is intended to highlight rivers that will be confronted by decisions in the upcoming year that could determine their future.
The Verde, rated number 10, is the only one on the list affected by groundwater pumping.
Development, mining discharge, municipal and agricultural pollutants, inadequate flood control and excessive sand and gravel mining are listed as the factors endangering other rivers on the list.
The other rivers on the list are: Pajaro (Calif.), Yellowstone (Mont.), Willamette (Ore.), Salmon Trout (Mich.), Shenandoah (Va, W.Va.), Boise (Idaho), Caloosahatchee (Fla), Bristoll Bay (Alaska) and the San Jacinto (Texas).