Verde River A kayaker paddles near Camp Verde. © Tana Kappel/TNC

Stories in Arizona

Smarter Irrigation is Good for Crops and Nature

Automation makes irrigation more efficient and leaves more water in the Verde River.

In the Verde Valley community of Camp Verde, water is not a “fightin” word. 

Residents are getting the water they need for their crops and landscaping, and the river flows are increasing. 

That’s because of innovation in the area’s irrigation system. Ditch associations, with support from The Nature Conservancy, have installed automatic solar-powered head gates that monitor and adjust the flow of river water into the irrigation ditches.    

“This system works very well. It regulates the flow and the gates are automated so we can make adjustments remotely,” says Kevin Hauser, a Camp Verde area farmer and irrigator. “It works very well.” 

The system has helped reduce the amount of river water flowing into the ditches. That means more water stays in the river. 

“Now we’re only taking the amount we need to use, and leaving the rest to help the river. The Conservancy has provided our community with some practical solutions that benefit us all,” says Hauser. 

To further encourage water conservation, the Conservancy negotiated an Irrigation Reduction Agreement with the Diamond S Ditch Association that provides financial incentives for using less water.   

The agreement means that the Diamond S, which provides water to Hauser and around 80 landowners in the Camp Verde area, gets paid up to $10 per acre-foot of unused irrigation water, funds that help pay for more irrigation upgrades. 

Flows have increased, and more increases are projected, which will benefit fish and wildlife, river recreation users, homeowners and people downstream who rely on this important tributary to the Colorado River.  

Water from the 185-mile long Verde River is a major source of drinking water for not only the Verde Valley but also metropolitan Phoenix. 

The river is important for the birds too. Some of the highest breeding bird densities in North America have been reported in the cottonwood forests along the Verde River.