6/24/2010 3:28:00 PM, Verde Independent
The Verde River Basin Partnership (VRBP) announced today that “Arizona Rivers”, an organization devoted to protecting the state’s rivers, is the newest Member of the Partnership. Arizona Rivers will participate in a Caucus of other Environmental Groups including The Nature Conservancy, Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Arizona Wildlife Federation.
“Arizona Rivers is excited to support and participate in the scientific goals of the Verde River Basin Partnership, and to help get the information the partnership obtains out to the public,” said Michelle Harrington, executive director of Arizona Rivers. “… only through fact-based observations can reasonable people make decisions about how we want to manage the river basin and the water flowing through it.”
Harrington has long been a fixture in Verde River conservation through her work with other organizations.
Maintaining a strict river and river-dependent wildlife focus, the relatively young Arizona Rivers organization seeks to “protect Arizona’s imperiled rivers and riparian habitats in support of diverse native fish communities, wildlife, plants, and human health and enjoyment.” For more information about Arizona Rivers, see arizonarivers.org.
The Partnership’s Coordinating Committee meets the fourth Monday of most months in the Jerome Town Hall at 2 p.m. and meetings are open to the public.
31 comments by Shaun McKinnon – Mar. 17, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Winter storms plastered Arizona’s high country with snow and soaked the lower deserts with rain until the ground was almost sloshing, but that was just the first half of an increasingly wet story.
As temperatures rise this week, the snow will start to melt, gushing down streams and rivers into reservoirs that, in many cases, are already full. The overflow on the Salt and Verde rivers alone could exceed a year’s supply of water for Valley residents.
The runoff will ease drought conditions across much of the state, rejuvenating parched forests and rangelands and replenishing groundwater aquifers. Whether the winter has ended the drought, now more than a decade old, probably won’t be known for another year or more. It’s already clear that drought conditions will persist on the Colorado River.
The bringer of the bounty was almost certainly El Niño, an ocean-warming phenomenon that typically steers wet weather across Arizona and New Mexico. Storms have delivered nearly record rain and snow in some areas, with precipitation totals as high as three and four times the seasonal average.
The results are visible in the mountains, where authorities are cautioning visitors about muddy roads and trails; at dams, where excess water is pouring through spillways; and in the normally dry lower Salt River, now a real river as it cuts across Phoenix.
The water in the Salt is almost all overflow from the six upstream reservoirs, two on the Verde and four on the upper Salt. The reservoirs filled even before snow started to melt. Roosevelt Lake, the largest of the six, reached an all-time high level on Friday.
That means there’s no room to store whatever remains in the high country, a projected 1 million acre-feet, or about 326 billion gallons.
“It’s over a year’s worth of water we aren’t able to capture,” said Charlie Ester, water-operations chief for Salt River Project, the Tempe-based utility that delivers about 1 million acre-feet to cities and farmers annually. An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, enough to serve two average households for one year.
“It’s a shame we can’t put it in the bank until next year,” Ester said, “but a lot of it will go into the ground, and it’ll be there for the next terrible drought, which you know is on its way.”
Water that doesn’t percolate into the ground along the river channel will accumulate behind Painted Rock Dam on the Gila River near Gila Bend.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dam for flood control, has already started to release water into the lower Gila. Some of it could reach the Colorado River near Yuma in the coming weeks, offsetting what the United States owes Mexico, which holds the rights to 1.5 million acre-feet a year from the Colorado.
That would be good news for states that rely on the Colorado, which is not sharing in El Niño’s spoils. Snowpack is below average in the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, and the runoff is expected to produce less than 70 percent of the normal springtime flow into the Colorado River.
At one point, federal officials warned that the poor runoff season could push water levels at Lake Mead, one of two huge reservoirs on the Colorado, to within 2 feet of the depth that would trigger cutbacks to Arizona and Nevada.
Those forecasts have been revised, in part because the storms in Arizona and California reduced demand on the river, allowing more water to remain in storage at Mead. Since Jan. 1, the amount of water delivered to farmers has been 575,000 acre-feet less than expected, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The Central Arizona Project, which delivers Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson, has also taken less water from the river this year because its primary storage reservoir, Lake Pleasant, has filled quickly with runoff from the Agua Fria River.
The Agua Fria produced about four times its average flow this winter, CAP officials estimate. Its peak came in January, during a storm that destroyed a number of homes near Black Canyon City.
CAP officials say even with the added Agua Fria runoff, they plan to take their full share of Colorado River water this year.
While water managers have focused on the robust supply side of the winter, scientists and wildlife biologists are watching how rivers and wetlands react. Even an occasional surge of water through a desert river can revive plants and wildlife habitat.
On the Bill Williams River in western Arizona, the runoff is allowing scientists and resource managers to conduct another series of controlled releases from Alamo Dam. The scientists want to see how the pulses of water affect vegetation, wildlife and water quality.
“This is a good learning opportunity for us,” said Andrew Hautzinger, a hydrologist and chairman of a project aimed at preserving the Bill Williams. “We have an array of committed scientists, and we think we can work on ways to do restoration on a river.”
River ecologists wince when they hear people talk about the water flowing past the dams as wasted simply because it can’t be stored for people to use later.
“The idea that it’s not being used by people and therefore is a waste is a sad way to look at the natural world,” said Michelle Harrington, director of the advocacy group Arizona Rivers. “Everything needs water to live. We should be happy that at times there is enough for more than just us.”
For Immediate Release:
February 10th, 2010
Contact: Bret Fanshaw, Environment Arizona, 602-252-9225
GROUPS WARN THAT SANTA CRUZ RIVER, TEMPE TOWN LAKE AT RISK OF INCREASED POLLUTION
Representative Mitchell Urged to Protect All Waterways in Arizona
Tempe — Streams and headwaters in Arizona are at risk of unlimited pollution, according to a report released today by Environment Arizona titled Courting Disaster: How the Supreme Court Has Broken the Clean Water Act and Why Congress Must Fix It. One case study highlighted in this report is the Santa Cruz River, currently at risk of losing its Clean Water Act protections. The report also provides 30 case studies demonstrating how the federal Clean Water Act is broken and calls on Representative Mitchell to fix it.
“Polluters are trying to break open the floodgates to dumping unlimited pollution into Arizona’s waterways,” said Bret Fanshaw, Environmental Associate with Environment Arizona. “Representative Mitchell must shut the door on dirty special interests and protect the Santa Cruz River, Tempe Town Lake, and all of Arizona’s waters.”
“Recent rollbacks to the Clean Water Act have swept away 30 years of protection for some of Arizona’s most important waters and waterways across the country,” said Fanshaw. “Polluters have been given a green light to ignore the Clean Water Act, even when it may destroy a stream or affect our drinking water supplies.”
The case studies in the report indicate that streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes and other waters across the nation are now more vulnerable to pollution and destruction. These cases provide examples of the estimated 15,000 water bodies that federal agencies have declared unprotected in the last eight years. Today’s report is largely based on information obtained through district offices of the Army Corps of Engineers, or from Corps headquarters, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Justice.
The case studies include:
The Santa Cruz River at risk of losing Clean Water Act protections:
- The Santa Cruz River is a significant natural resource for the communities along its banks, and an important cultural and historic resource in Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico. More than 22 threatened or endangered species depend on the Santa Cruz and its tributaries.
- In May 2008, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a study concluding that two long reaches of the Santa Cruz are “traditional navigable waters” (TNWs) and should be protected. However, the Corps soon withdrew the findings after pressure from special interest lobby groups, ignoring the well-researched study.
- The Corp’s action could have undercut the Clean Water Act safeguards for the headwaters and wetlands in the Santa Cruz watershed. Fortunately, the EPA made the Santa Cruz determination a “special case” and in December 2008 reinstated TNW designations, protecting the two stretches of river.
- However, in March 2009, the National Association of Home Builders and its local counterparts filed suit in federal court challenging the EPA’s ruling. The industry complaint indicates that the Association is trying to make it more difficult to protect the Santa Cruz’s many headwater streams and tributaries.
Some wastewater treatment plants no longer requiring permits in Arizona:
- In June 2007, the Pima County, Arizona County Commissioner’s office wrote to EPA suggesting that a number of wastewater treatment plants in the Southwest are no longer required to comply with the Clean Water Act, despite previously obtaining pollution discharge permits. These facilities include:
- The Aura Valley Wastewater Treatment Facility, which discharges into the Black Wash Spray Fields, and irrigates native mesquite trees. The spray fields drain into the Black Wash, a tributary to Brawley Wash, eventually draining into the lower Santa Cruz River and ultimately into the Colorado River near Yuma. The flow path moves through six different watersheds, covering almost 300 miles of arid desert.
- The Mt. Lemmon Facility, which discharges into a ditch that links to a series of unnamed washes along Alder Canyon. After 18 miles, the washes flow into Alder Wash, which intersects with the San Pedro River six miles downstream. The San Pedro, which has run dry in 2005 and 2006, eventually drains into the Gila River and eventually intersects with the Colorado River.
“Our waterways in Arizona provide us with precious drinking water, vital irrigation services, important wildlife habitat, and many places to enjoy. We squander this treasured resource every time we allow polluters to contaminate our waterways,” said Michelle Harrington, director of Arizona Rivers, who participated in the press conference.
Environment Arizona emphasized that pollution of headwater streams and wetlands leads to greater pollution and flooding for downstream communities, including Tempe Town Lake. Safe pH levels for swimming are minimum 5.0 and maximum 9.0, and the City of Tempe periodically recorded Tempe Town Lake as hovering from 8.2 to 9.6 in 2009.
“It is unacceptable that Tempe Town Lake is often too polluted to swim in,” stated Fanshaw.
The EPA has estimated that some 20 million acres of wetlands in the continental United States may lose federal protection because of the rollbacks to the Clean Water Act. In addition, tens of thousands of miles of seasonal and headwater streams, including portions of the Santa Cruz River and countless numbers of small lakes and ponds could be left without federal protection from water pollution. In Arizona, 94% of streams and headwaters are at risk of losing their Clean Water Act protections.
In June, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee passed a bill, the Clean Water Restoration Act, which would restore the Clean Water Act. Now it is up to the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee to take up a similar bill. Representative Harry Mitchell (AZ-5) sits on the committee.
Fanshaw concluded, “We hope to see Representative Mitchell work to protect all of our lakes, rivers and streams from pollution this year.”
The report is available at www.EnvironmentArizona.org/reports
Environment Arizona is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization that works to protect clean air, clean water, and open spaces.
Arizona Rivers works to protect imperiled rivers and riparian habitats in support of diverse native fisheries, wildlife, plants, and human health and enjoyment.
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