Nature Conservancy awarded $2.8 million

NRCS grant to help 'protect, restore and conserve' Verde River

The $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation will allow The Nature Conservancy and its partners "to realize our vision to protect, restore and conserve the Verde, one of our state's important rivers," says Kim Schonek, Verde River project manager for The Nature Conservancy. VVN photo by Bill Helm

The $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation will allow The Nature Conservancy and its partners "to realize our vision to protect, restore and conserve the Verde, one of our state's important rivers," says Kim Schonek, Verde River project manager for The Nature Conservancy. VVN photo by Bill Helm

VERDE VALLEY - The Verde River has been selected for a major health improvement as part of public-private initiative aimed at protected priority watersheds and landscapes.

The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service announced today a grant of $2.8 million to The Nature Conservancy and its partners for the Verde River Flow and Habitat Restoration Initiative, which seeks to restore river flows and riverside health while supporting the irrigation needs of agricultural producers in the Verde Valley. The funding is from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, part of the recently passed Farm Bill.

"Our future is dependent on the wise use of water. We need to act at a scale large enough to make a difference," said Patrick Graham, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Arizona. "This project will demonstrate the many benefits of working with communities to enhance a major river that provides so many benefits for people and nature. Projects like these will change the course of conservation in Arizona."

"We're excited. This grant will allow us to realize our vision to protect, restore and conserve the Verde, one of our state's important rivers," said Kim Schonek, Verde River project manager for The Nature Conservancy in Arizona. "This award will build on investments and collaborative efforts by conservation, community and agricultural interests along the river."

The Verde has been the focus of a decade-long effort by The Nature Conservancy, agricultural producers, community groups, corporate partners and agencies to enhance the river's flows and health. An important river in the Colorado River Basin, the Verde delivers drinking water to more than three million people in Phoenix and the Verde Valley, irrigates almost 6,000 acres of land, and supports a rich fish and wildlife habitat.

In recent years, prolonged drought and increasing human demands have stressed this and other rivers in the West, and reduced the amount of water available for agriculture and fish and wildlife. This new funding will continue to support collaborative efforts to restore flows, including improving irrigation systems and wildlife habitat along the river - both of which support the rural economy of Yavapai County.

In the past five years, The Nature Conservancy and its partners have worked with irrigators to improve irrigation water management by using automated gates, ditch liners to reduce water loss, and improved infrastructure. These efforts, combined with financial incentives for conservation, have meant less water is being diverted from the river. The result has been increased flows along 20 miles of the river in the Verde Valley and improved flows in the Wild and Scenic area between Camp Verde and Phoenix.

"We in the agricultural community are pleased with how the community is coming together to support the Verde. We're conserving water, leaving more for the river, while still using the water we need to make a living in agriculture. This new funding will help us continue to use our water efficiently while supporting our rural economy," said Zach Hauser, a Verde area farmer and member of the Verde Natural Resource Conservation District, a partner in the new initiative.

The new initiative will continue to support efficiency in irrigation and water management to restore river flow, and enable long-term protection of farming operations in the valley. A key component will be converting from flood irrigation to more efficient systems such as drip irrigation.

The initiative will also focus on improving riverside wildlife habitat by removing invasive plants and stemming erosion.

The fish and wildlife habitat of the Verde River system is among the most unique and diverse in the Colorado River Basin. The river supports nine species of native fish and more than 200 species of birds, and is one of just two places in Arizona with a breeding population of river otter.

In addition to the Conservancy and the Verde Natural Resource Conservation, partners in the initiative include Friends of Verde River Greenway, the Verde Natural Resource Conservation District, Arizona Game and Fish and the Tamarisk Coalition.

"We're excited that the initiatives we've taken along the Verde River are being recognized and that we can continue to protect this river, which is an amazing resource for our Verde Valley communities and the unique wildlife of this area," said Chip Norton, of the Friends of the Verde River Greenway.

The Nature Conservancy in Arizona has been working for decades to protect and conserve Arizona's rivers, its natural watersheds and water sources which benefit people, nature, business and the economy.

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