at TNC's Shield Ranch along the Verde River near Camp Verde, Arizona.
Mist on the pond at TNC's Shield Ranch along the Verde River near Camp Verde, Arizona. © Chris Bertrand/TNC

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Verde River Watershed Scores Overall C+ in New Report Card

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Phoenix, AZ

The first-ever Verde River Watershed Report Card will be released Tuesday, February 18 during an event at the Southwest Wine Center in Clarkdale, Arizona. The report card provides an overall assessment of the health of the watershed.

The watershed earned an overall score of 57%, a C+. Of the three categories—water, communities and habitat—water and habitat had moderate scores, 48% and 54% respectively, and communities scored the highest with a score of 59%.

The Verde River watershed stretches from Chino Valley to Phoenix, supplying drinking water to more than 3 million people in the metro area. The river also supports the Prescott and Verde Valley communities with drinking water, irrigation for food, and recreation, and boosts local economies.

Verde River baseflow—flow in the river during summer—scored poorly, at 38%, reflecting nearly 30 years of steady declines. Water quality received the lowest score of 19% due in part to monitoring challenges.

“I learned something very important during this journey,” says Kim Schonek, Verde River program director for The Nature Conservancy. “We need to look at the watershed in a holistic way."

It’s critical for us to think about how we can achieve conservation goals in concert with economic goals for the communities in the watershed—these include housing and recreation.

Verde River program director for The Nature Conservancy

The highest scoring indicators were in the communities category; both recreation access and visitor satisfaction had very good scores, 87% and 96%, respectively.

“Congress designated the Verde River and its tributary, Fossil Creek, as wild and scenic rivers—the only such designations in Arizona,” said Steve Chesterton, Wild & Scenic Rivers national program manager for the USDA Forest Service. “These waterways are incredible assets for present and future generations to enjoy. The report card process looked at the connection between these protected areas and the broader landscape to help identify stewardship opportunities of shared interest within the watershed going forward.”   

The habitat category had mixed results. Upland habitat had a poor score (36%) and streamside birds had a good score (77%). Habitat scores in the Verde are affected by many factors, including soil erosion, wildfire risk and the quality of trees and plants along the riverbanks.

The Verde River as seen from the Verde Canyon railroad.
Verde River The Verde River as seen from the Verde Canyon railroad. © Mark Ryan/TNC

“The Verde River is threatened by unrestricted groundwater pumping, diversions, degraded habitats and warmer, drier weather,” says Nancy Steele, executive director for Friends of the Verde River. “Our small towns are dependent on a healthy river for everything that’s important to us—drinking water, irrigation, and recreation. By working collaboratively, we can ensure the river keeps flowing and our communities continue to thrive.”

The U.S. Forest Service provided significant project funding for the development of this Report Card to mark the 50th anniversary of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust provided funding for this project as part of its ongoing investment in the Verde River to maintain flows and river quality. Based in Phoenix and Indianapolis, the Trust helps people in need, protects animals and nature, and enriches community life.

More than 16 entities were engaged in developing this tool. You can read more about the 5-step report card process and methodology at Verdereportcard.org.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.