Part 2: Keeping the Verde River Healthy

American Rivers and a diverse group of local partners are developing a Blue Trail on the Verde River in Arizona.

Guest blogger, Doug Von Gausig, Mayor of Clarkdale, Arizona, introduces the Verde River and our work to preserve and connect local communities to it through recreation in a three part blog series.

Verde River Blue Trail, AZ | Doug Von Gausig

The unofficial oath of those of us who work to conserve the Verde River is, “First, Do No Harm.” By this, we mean that our river is in pretty good shape, especially when compared to the fate of so many other desert southwest rivers. In Arizona, the norm has been to consume rivers, not to conserve them, and this has left a legacy of dry creek beds where lush rivers once ran.

Not so with the Verde. It flows with clean, cool water, surrounded by native trees and plants, and it hosts several species of native fish, though they are far outnumbered by invasives. Very few southwest rivers are as healthy and as vibrant as the Verde. Our job is to keep it that way.

The challenges to the Verde are many, but none are insurmountable or inevitable. The extraction of ground water is the river’s biggest threat. Groundwater supplies the base flow of the river and the stream competes for its water with the burgeoning human population living all around it.

The Verde is also diverted for irrigation, and the diversions are old and inefficient push up dams that pay little attention to the “swimways” needed by migrating fish. Irrigation diversions are nearly all unregulated – the end users can all take as much as they want, any time they want.

This means that the Verde is over diverted – more water is in the ditches than is in the river in many areas. These ditches present a great opportunity for improving flows, and organizations like The Nature Conservancy are working to help the diverters improve their systems by modernizing structures, monitoring and balancing needs more accurately, and improving efficiencies. 

But perhaps the greatest long-term threat to the Verde is the neglect borne of the lack of economic, social and cultural value placed on a healthy river. This is the challenge that American Rivers and local partners are addressing through the creation of a Blue Trail. Working with the communities along the Verde, we will connect residents and visitors to the Verde through river-based recreation and help them recognize the Verde as a vital resource that must be protected.