Community Partners Team Up to Launch “Verde River Exchange” Water “Offset” Program

Project Aims to Protect Verde River by Connecting Credit “Sellers” and “Buyers”


Cottonwood, AZ | July 25, 2016

A new water conservation program aimed at protecting the free-flowing waters of the Verde River officially kicks off Thursday, July 21, 2016 in Cottonwood, AZ. The Verde River Exchange Water Offset Program, or “Verde River Exchange” for short, is a collaborative effort among Friends of Verde River Greenway (FVRG) and a diverse group of partners. The program connects Verde Valley homes and businesses willing to temporarily reduce their water usage – or potential credit “sellers” – with groundwater users seeking to reduce the impacts of their continuing use – or potential “buyers.” Two area vineyards – Merkin Vineyards and Page Spring Vineyards – and a local family are piloting the program in its inaugural year.
 
Although groundwater makes up almost half of Arizona’s water supply, research shows water levels are dropping in many parts of the state. Currently 35 percent of Arizona river miles that once flowed freely year-round no longer do. The Verde River also faces long-term threats from increased dependence on groundwater pumping.

“As the population grows, so does the demand for water. There are few tools for communities to manage its use, and so we believe the Verde River Exchange is launching at an opportune time,” said Chip Norton, president of Friends of Verde River Greenway, the not-for-profit responsible for launching the Verde River Exchange.

The Verde River Exchange offers groundwater users an avenue to reduce impacts to the Verde River by allowing them to purchase offset “credits.” Willing water users, or “sellers,” voluntarily agree to refrain from using a certain quantity of water for a defined period of time, and the reduction is translated into a Water Offset Credit. “Buyers” who wish to reduce their “water footprint” pay for the Water Offset Credit generated by the seller. The Verde River Exchange matches these buyers and sellers, and in so doing creates a voluntary mitigation program for Verde Valley water.

In the program’s inaugural pilot projects, Page Springs Vineyards and Merkin Vineyards have each agreed to purchase Water Offset Credits in 2016, offsetting the impact of groundwater use associated with almost 10 acres of vineyard. “Wine has always been, for me, a liquid landscape and a way of expressing the earth,” said Eric Glomski, owner and winemaker at Page Springs Cellars and Vineyards. “In the big picture, the river to me is a gigantic indicator and metaphor for the condition of our landscape and our relationship to it.”

“(The Verde Valley) is an oasis in the middle of the desert,” said James Keenan of Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards. “We’ve already shown the undeniable economic impact of the wine industry on Arizona. I hope to raise awareness of our grape growing efforts and to show that this industry is extremely sustainable in terms of long term water conservation.”

The program was developed in partnership with and funded by The Nature Conservancy in Arizona, Walton Family Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund and Bonneville Environmental Foundation. FVRG serves as the administrator of the program, with the guidance of a local advisory council.

“We are delighted to be working with so many good partners, and with Verde Valley landowners and businesses who have stepped up to be leaders in shared stewardship of the watershed,” said Kim Schonek of The Nature Conservancy’s Arizona chapter.

“Verde Valley residents are working together in extraordinary ways to craft a local solution that helps sustain the Verde River,” said Kevin Moran, EDF Senior Director for Western Water. “This is a great example of a region developing solutions that reward progress toward sustainability, and we are very pleased to support this community-driven effort.”

“If nothing is done, area water levels and river flows will potentially continue to decline,” said Jocelyn Gibbon, a key organizer of the Verde River Exchange and principal of Freshwater Policy Consulting, an organization that provides support to organizations interested in water and natural resource policy and sustainability. “As a community we have the potential to shift this outcome, preserve a flowing river and protect water supplies, while still promoting sustainable economic development. We are so excited to be working with community leaders on this project.”

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have helped protect 130 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy at www.nature.org/arizona.

Environmental Defense Fund (www.edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with EDF on Twitter, Facebook and the Growing Returns blog.

Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) is a national leader in developing environmental water stewardship programs that partner with corporations to support water conservation and restoration. Through innovative initiatives like Change the Course and BEF’s Water Restoration Program, BEF has worked with dozens of companies and partners to support more than 30 water restoration projects and replenish over 8 billion gallons of water to benefit depleted rivers and ecosystems across 10 states and Mexico. Visit BEF at www.b-e-f.org.

The Walton Family Foundation believes that conservation solutions that make economic sense are the ones that stand the test of time. The Walton Family Foundation works to achieve lasting change by creating new and unexpected partnerships among conservation, business and community interests to build durable solutions to important problems. The Walton Family Foundation is investing in two of the most important conservation issues of our time: (1) restoring the health of the oceans through sustainable fisheries and (2) preserving functioning rivers and the quality and availability of fresh water they provide. Learn more at www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org.

Friends of Verde River Greenway is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Cottonwood, Arizona. Its mission is to restore, protect and promote the natural, cultural, scenic and recreational resources of the Verde River and its tributaries. Friends of Verde River Greenway (www.verderivergreenway.org) works on a range of programs that include habitat improvement, channel restoration, flow restoration, sustainable river recreation and community outreach. For more information about the Verde River Exchange, visit www.verderiverexchange.org or contact Jocelyn Gibbon at (602) 908-7818 or jocelyn@freshwaterpolicy.com.


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 unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 countries, 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.

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