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12:57 AM Mon, Sept. 24th

Verde group gets study grant

It's official: the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame has donated $250,000 to the Verde River Basin Partnership for a long-awaited water study.

The partnership announced Wednesday that the donation was final, after a preliminary announcement last month.

"I'm pleased and excited that this important work will finally get under way in September, and most grateful for the Walton Family Foundation for funding it," said Ed Wolfe, chair of the partnership's coordinating committee.

Congress created the partnership five years ago to conduct specific studies, at the urging of Sen. John McCain. But the partnership has never been able to get federal money to conduct the studies, mainly because Prescott-area communities refuse to join the partnership.

"The feds created the program and essentially abandoned us, and we went out and got (the money) on our own," said Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig, a partnership member and former coordinating committee chair.

The partnership already has come up with a water study plan with the help of the U.S. Geological Survey, which will conduct the study and contribute $50,000.

"Ed's leadership really helped," Von Gausig said.

The 18-month study will analyze the effects of various future water-use scenarios on groundwater levels and surface water flows in the Middle Verde River region for the next century. It also will produce more accurate water budgets for the area.

"These water balance studies will really help the towns a lot," Von Gausig said. "Any water manager needs to know the resources and effects of use."

To enhance the analysis, scientists will collect new data about how much water riparian vegetation and irrigators use, and take new measurements of the Verde River flow in late fall.

The study will fulfill the first set of requirements laid out in the federal legislation that created the partnership.

The partnership is coordinating the study with other local water groups so Verde River Basin work is not duplicated, Von Gausig noted.

The Walton Family Foundation has a written five-year strategy for its "Freshwater Initiative" that is focusing on the Mississippi and Colorado river basins. The strategy specifically mentions the Verde River.

"The Freshwater Initiative's primary objective is to ensure healthy and resilient communities of both wildlife and humans in targeted river systems," foundation materials state.