Steele quoted on current condition of the Verde River
Take a walk along the banks of the Verde River and you’ll find water cascading down gentle rapids, cottonwoods and willows rustling in the breeze, and the sounds of birds ringing out in the shady oasis.
To the casual visitor, the Verde River may appear a picture-perfect healthy ecosystem. But researchers working with conservation groups have taken a more thorough look at the watershed and have given it a less than stellar grade: a C-plus.
The team prepared the report card by rating the health of the watershed using measurable criteria in categories that included water (water quality, quantity and management), habitats, community engagement and recreation.
The report card was released this week by the Nature Conservancy, Friends of the Verde River and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The groups say in their report that the Verde, one of Arizona’s last surviving rivers, is “threatened by unrestricted groundwater pumping, surface water diversion, degraded habitats, and a changing climate.”
“We definitely have some low scores around upland habitat and aquatic habitat,” said Nancy Steele, executive director of Friends of the Verde River. Based on these results, she said, she and others plan to look more closely at ways of helping to improve the condition of the upland habitat, including joint efforts with the U.S. Forest Service.
On the upside, Steele said, the Verde River has a good diversity of native fish species compared to other streams in Arizona.
“We want to keep that fish diversity and we want to improve on that, so that we have more native fish,” she said.
The nonprofit advocacy groups are using the report card as a tool to communicate areas of highest concern and their proposals for improving the watershed’s health. The report card also includes regional scores for different portions of the watershed.