Legislative Day – Western Rivers Action Network –

Arizona Senate

Conservation Conversation

News about significant decline of species on top of news about droughts causing historic water shortages can be disheartening; but once in a blue moon – legislators take action.  Audubon’s Western Rivers Action Network (WRAN) has developed significant clout with its 10,000 members. It is a more-moderate leaning group of birders, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts. Therefore, when they speak – Arizona lawmakers actually listen. NAAS Conservation Committee member Kay Hawklee was there to urge protection of our area’s waters. (To find out what you can do; read all the way through, or jump to “What can we do?” below).

Each year WRAN leaders meet with legislators to urge conservation of Arizona’s rivers.  Leading up to this year’s Legislation Day was very interesting. The most important piece of legislation in years – the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) – had to be negotiated with Stakeholders who own water rights or the federal government would step in and take over; resulting in the loss of 17% of the State’s water.

Would the DCP come together and be signed? Senator Otondo said it was dicey!

Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) website declared:

Lake Mead Low Water

Historic legislation ratifying Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) and marking the passage of one of the most significant pieces of water legislation in Arizona since the Groundwater Management Act of 1980 was signed by Governor Doug Ducey on Jan. 31, 2019. The legislation allows Arizona to join six other western states and Mexico in signing an inter-state water agreement and spells out ways Arizona will contribute to conserving more water from the Colorado River.

DCP is an “insurance policy” against catastrophic shortages at Lake Mead, said Sonia Perillo, Executive Director of Audubon Arizona.

Karyn Stockdale, Audubon’s Senior Director of the Western Water Initiative said, “Water is not infinite—but we’ve been treating Colorado River water like it is for decades—this agreement creates new rules for sharing the responsibility to keep more water in rivers and reservoirs.”

Keeping water in our western rivers is vital to birds. It is virtually a life or death proposition for the endangered Southwest Willow Flycatcher and Yuma Ridgway’s Rail.

Mornings on Legislative Day, begin with a speaker who gives us the inside scoop on what’s going on with the State’s precious rivers.  Last year Director of ADWR Tom Buschtazke told us that Lake Mead had a 50/50 chance of going to mud.

This year, a bipartisan feminine duo addressed our group: Senate President Karen Fann – former Mayor of Chino Valley – and Senator Lisa Otondo, the Democratic Whip.  Senator Otondo told us that getting DCP done is “the end of the beginning.” The work is not nearly complete – no time to rest.

What does this mean for Northern Arizona Audubon Society?   

The Verde River
The Verde River is a main tributary with the Colorado River Basin

It appears the severe drought plaguing the Southwest since the late 1990s* has triggered action. Hopefully by addressing water-management problems at down-basin locations, lessons might be learned that will result in protections for the Verde Valley sub-basin also.

When there are threats to the Verde River water, we want to be ready.

A project to watch:

“Big Chino Valley Pumped Storage Project questioned by Yavapai County residents.Proposed hydro-electric project five miles southeast of Seligman questioned by locals.” This project’s impacts will be on the Big Chino groundwater, the Verde River and residential wells. See article at: https://www.williamsnews.com/news/2018/aug/07/big-chino-valley-pumped-storage-project-questioned/

ADWR in action:

Senator Otondo also said there is not enough knowledge about the amount of groundwater in Arizona. Period – full stop. The good news is that ADWR is  investigating the amount of groundwater in our area because “Municipal use is the largest demand sector and is expected to almost double by the year 2060.” The big question is whether or not there is water for municipal growth?

Verde Valley sub-basin groundwater:

Registered Water Wells – Verde Valley

Click to expand – Source: https://gisweb2.azwater.gov/WellReg

Limited water level data are available for the Verde Valley sub-basin prior to 1999. However, available data show significant overall water level declines in saturated alluvial deposits and Verde Formation in the Cottonwood area and moderate water level declines in the Sedona area where the greatest amount of development and groundwater withdrawal occurs from alluvial deposits and the Verde Formation (Arizona Department of Water Resources, 2000 and 2006).

In March 2017, ADWR announced:

“Beginning in early March, the Arizona Department of Water Resources will be making an extensive effort to measure water levels in wells in the Prescott Active Management Area and the Verde Basin.” https://new.azwater.gov/sites/default/files/ArizonaDepartmentofWaterResourceswillsurveywellsinpartsofYavapaiandCoconinoCounties.pdf

Non-profits in action:

Friends of the Verde River:

The Verde River Exchange – Water Offset Program: Friends of Verde River, along with a group of partners (The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, Walton Family Foundation, Bonneville Environmental Foundation), teamed up with Arizona winemakers, residents, and businesses to establish the “Verde River Exchange.” This program allows water users to “reduce their water footprint” while protecting river, creek flows and water supplies for the future. http://audubon.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=0c31498b9bd4471aae45a32c24fea25d

Audubon Arizona:

For truly fun way of understanding more about what’s going on with water conservation in our area visit the story map entitled:  Audubon Arizona – The Verde Planning Area:

In 2014, the Arizona Department of Water Resources completed their Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability. This vision, which organized the state into 22 solution-oriented “Planning Areas”, is a starting point in developing long-term plans to address possible water supply/demand imbalances.

The Arizona Water Initiative is the implementation of this vision via continued data collection and managing the planning process across the state. Ongoing public meetings will be held to identify the area supply/demand imbalances, develop management strategies, and give stakeholders a chance to add their voice to the conversation. http://audubon.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=0c31498b9bd4471aae45a32c24fea25d

What can we do?

1. Join WRAN. Join the Western Rivers Action Network today to be kept up to date on ADWR planning meetings, other opportunities for conservation action, the latest water-related news, and more.

Go to the NAAS website:

  • The last link on the Conservation tab is for Audubon Western Rivers Action Network.

Once you become a member at – no charge – you will be able to weigh in on water management decisions that will shape the future of Western rivers, lakes and birds. https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/8-OcLr9D6UaXYy1mSiooig2

Sonia Perillo, Executive Director of Audubon Arizona, said that our responding to WRAN action alerts is very beneficial. There is strength in numbers!

The Chair of NAAS Conservation Committee, Amy Zimmerman, recently wrote, “Conservation news is often in the form of calls to action to save something on the brink of being lost–a plant or animal species, a piece of beautiful habitat, or even warding off threats to the entire world.”

Please head this call to action. There is a simple cure for that helpless feeling – taking action! Speak up for birds!

*https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/144216/drought-persists-in-the-us-southwest

Submitted by Kay Hawklee

NAAS Conservation Committee and Board Member