By TOM O’HALLERAN
Special to the Courier
In 1746 Benjamin Franklin said, “When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” The Verde River Basin Partnership (Partnership) believes that statement holds as true today as it did back then.
In retrospect we can understand that in 1746 a well could go dry and that we would not have had the capability to predict it. Today we have no excuses!
Over the course of the last few decades water-resource science has expanded to a point that, throughout the United States and the world, people are relying on the scientific research of agencies, such as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), to make decisions on water availability, water conservation, water supply infrastructure and possible impacts to their economy caused by the lack of sustainable water supplies.
In 1980 the Arizona Groundwater Code was instituted into law by the Legislature and governor. This legislation was enacted due to the growing concern that areas such as Phoenix, Tucson and Prescott could be lacking the necessary water resources to sustain their expanding populations. These areas were identified as Active Management Areas (AMA). For the first time in Arizona history population growth was tied directly to available water resources.
The AMAs soon discovered that to manage their resources they need the knowledge that only science could provide. They embarked on an extensive initiative to expand their knowledge relating to water resources. Using science-based information they began to obtain the data necessary for development of computer models that would assist in identifying the extent of their water resources and how growth and other factors would impact their water supplies. The AMAs have been using the findings from model simulations to discern how much growth can be sustained. By law, AMAs are required to have an assured 100-year water supply.
Groundwater modeling is in use throughout the United States especially in Arizona and has been found to be a valuable tool in forecasting future water resource needs. Why then are we not utilizing it to help in the management of our water resources in the Verde River Basin?
The good news is that the USGS has developed The Northern Arizona Regional Groundwater-Flow Model, which incorporates the most comprehensive and up-to-date science-based water research available for our region. This new water management tool will allow us to make water management decisions based on peer-reviewed science. We will no longer have to make water management decisions based on the hope that the supply is adequate.
In 2010 the Partnership applied for a research grant through the Walton Family Foundation. This grant was awarded to the Town of Clarkdale to administer and pay funds to the USGS. The Partnership and USGS developed a scope of work that would collect essential data and publish a water budget.
Additionally, we would use the groundwater-flow model to indicate how our region’s hydrologic system responds to different stress levels. The objective is to have a better understanding of the strengths and limitations of the water resources of the Verde Valley over the long term.
Whether a small business, major corporation, elected official or water manager, decisions need to be made based on the best information available. In areas where computer modeling has been used it has proven to be a benefit for water management and the sustainability of the resource.
We are fortunate to live in a time in which we can help determine the fate of our natural resources. Our groundwater and surface water resources provide us with the water we need for survival, recreation and enhanced quality of life. Water also sustains our wildlife and riparian habitat. The region’s economy is tied directly to the availability of water and its cost. If we do not manage this resource appropriately it will become unsustainable. The result would be depletion of our water supply or higher costs to augment it. Either case would severely impact our quality of life.
Thornton Wilder once said, “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
The science-based information being developed by the USGS/Partnership will allow us to become conscious of our shared water resource treasure while making decisions that will sustain it into the future.
Knowledge is the necessary and critical element in the decision process.
Tom O’Halleran of Sedona is chairman of the Verde River Basin Partnership and a former state legislator.