Originally Published: April 19, 2006 4 a.m.
The Verde River is among the 10 of America's Most Endangered Rivers in the United States, according to a report that American Rivers released today.
The conservation group puts the Verde at No. 10 on its 2006 list. The Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club nominated the Verde to the list.
"It's definitely a good nomination," said Tom Slaback, a Sierra Club member from Prescott who helped propose the nomination. "The river's at risk of being de-watered for the first 24 miles."
The report basically points to Prescott's plan for a pipeline as the major threat to the Verde. The pipeline would bring groundwater from the Big Chino sub-basin south to the Little Chino sub-basin for Prescott and Prescott Valley. The state has concluded that the Prescott quad-cities are depleting the Little Chino groundwater supply.
The report cites a new U.S. Geological Survey study that concludes that the Big Chino aquifer supplies 80 to 86 percent of the flow of the upper Verde.
"A proposed 30-mile pipeline would transfer enough water each year from underground aquifers to significantly reduce the flows of the Upper Verde River," the report states. It's available online at www.americanrivers.org.
The Verde and its riparian corridor are home to endangered fish and birds, and it's one of Arizona's last remaining perennial rivers. Downstream Verde Valley officials as well as Phoenix water providers have expressed concerns about the pipeline's effects on the river's flow as well as human users who depend on the river's water.
While the Upper Verde also faces threats from thousands of Big Chino wells for homes that sit on top of the aquifer, the report focuses on larger projects where specific action might help the river, said Michelle Harrington of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) based in Tucson. American Rivers lists the CBD and Sierra Club as its "partners on the Verde."
Studies don't predict when Prescott's pipeline will reduce the flow of the Verde, but it will happen eventually without proper mitigation, Harrington said. Prescott plans to pump as much as 8,717 acre-feet annually from the Big Chino.
"This is such a huge heist of water," taking two-thirds to three-fourths of the annual Verde recharge, Harrington said. A U.S. Geological Survey report due out any day states that 17,700 acre-feet of the river's upper flow at Paulden comes from groundwater springs.
Because the CBD is involved in the endangered rivers list and the CBD has threatened to sue the City of Prescott over its planned Big Chino pipeline, Prescott Mayor Rowle Simmons and other city officials declined to comment on the list Thursday afternoon. They said they might comment Friday.
"We are fully prepared to file a lawsuit if they don't do what we believe is required by law," Harrington said.
Prescott needs to conduct an environmental analysis of the potential impacts of its pipeline on the Verde then write up a sufficient mitigation plan and habitat conservation plan, she said.
Making the list has made a difference to rivers in the past, said Brad DeVries, national media director for American Rivers.
For example, he said, since the group named the Susquehanna River the No. 1 endangered river in 2005 because of sewage runoff, Maryland's governor backed away from his proposal to reduce river cleanup efforts. Also, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency dropped its proposal to legalize the dumping of partially treated sewage into rivers.
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