Policy Options for Water Management in the Verde Valley, Arizona

Published: June 24, 2011
Authors: Matthew Heberger, Michael Cohen, James Limbrunner, Daniel Sheer, Jim Henderson, Bob Raucher
Pages: 187

The water of the Verde Valley in central Arizona, both in the ground and flowing at the surface, is a natural resource that is critical to the regional economy, environmental sustainability, and quality of life—but the Verde River faces unprecedented threats from over-allocation, development, and lack of cohesive water management. The report Policy Options for Water Management in the Verde Valley, Arizona, coauthored by Matthew Heberger and Michael Cohen of the Pacific Institute; James Limbrunner and Daniel Sheer of HydroLogics, Inc.; and Jim Henderson and Bob Raucher of Stratus Consulting, examines possible futures for the Verde River within the Verde Valley. The researchers provide information for stakeholders and decision-makers on the river’s resources, economic value, and tools for promoting sustainable water management.

Included are three detailed case studies examining how others in the western United States have begun reforming groundwater management to maintain river flows. The authors analyze water management in the Middle Rio Grande Basin in New Mexico, the Deschutes River Basin in Oregon, and the Edwards Aquifer in south central Texas.
In many areas of the United States, excessive pumping and groundwater overdraft are causing rivers and wetlands to go dry. In western states, where most surface water has long been fully appropriated, growing populations have turned increasingly to groundwater, leading to decreases in stream flow, conflicts with surface water rights, and harm to fish and wildlife. States have begun the process of reforming outdated laws and policies, some more ambitiously than others, and with mixed results.

The analysis of the Verde included modeling the effects of growth on river flows and on the regional economy. Population growth and development in the basin, if not mitigated, are likely to cause further decrease in the summer base flow in the Verde River. Decreases in the Verde River’s flow have
already been observed, and further reductions could have harmful side effects on the region’s economy and could lead to federal intervention in local water management to maintain habitat for endangered species.

The analysis demonstrates that the water resources of the Verde River basin, if managed wisely, can
meet the needs of cities, farms, and nature, as well as provide for future growth. The more than a dozen recommendations for water policy and management reforms offered by the authors will be equally valuable to other regions dealing with water scarcity and groundwater depletion. Reform is almost never fast or easy; but each of the options presented has worked in another Western state. These recommendations, broken into four categories, include:

Water management
–Enhance water conservation and efficiency
–Increase the use of recycled water
–Modernize irrigation infrastructure
–Enhance aquifer recharge

Legal reforms
–Advocate for legal protection of instream flows
–Require reporting of water use
–Regulate groundwater pumping to sustainable levels
–Mitigate new water uses
–Deal with exempt wells
–Press for adjudication of water rights
–Pursue Endangered Species Act protections for the Verde’s aquatic species

Economic and market-based measures
–Charge groundwater extraction fees
–Allow interested parties to purchase or donate water for instream flow
–Create water banking

Administrative or institutional actions
–Create the Verde River Active Management Area
–Create a Verde River Conservation District

Download the full report.
Download the executive summary.