In its inaugural year, the Verde River Exchange Water Offset Program hopes to reduce water usage and lessen the impact to groundwater resources.
Local nonprofit conservation group Friends of Verde River Greenway officially kicked off the program July 21. The goal is to connect Verde Valley homeowners and businesses willing to temporarily reduce their water usage with groundwater users looking to reduce the impact of their continuing use.
According to Monique Whitney, advertising and public relations representative for FVRG, the program allows groundwater users, or buyers, to purchase offset credits from water users, or sellers, who voluntarily agree to stop using a defined amount of water for a set period of time.
“Buyers who wish to reduce their water footprint pay for the water offset credit generated by the seller. The Verde River Exchange matches these buyers and sellers, and in so doing creates a voluntary mitigation program for Verde Valley water,” Whitney stated.
While groundwater makes up almost half of Arizona’s water supply, water levels are dropping in many parts of the state, Whitney added. “Currently, 35 percent of Arizona river miles that once flowed freely year-round no longer do. The Verde River also faces long-term threats from increased dependence on groundwater pumping.”
“As the population grows, so does the demand for water,” FVRG President Chip Norton said. “There are few tools for communities to manage its use, and so we believe the Verde River Exchange is launching at an opportune time.”
Merkin Vineyards, Page Spring Vineyards and a local family have agreed to pilot the program and to purchase water offset credits in 2016. With this action, the vineyards alone will be offsetting the impact of groundwater use associated with nearly 10 acres of vineyard.
“The Verde Valley is an oasis in the middle of the desert,” said James Keenan of Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards. “We’ve already shown the undeniable economic impact of the wine industry on Arizona.
“I hope to raise awareness of our grape-growing efforts and to show that this industry is extremely sustainable in terms of long-term water conservation.”
“Wine has always been, for me, a liquid landscape and a way of expressing the Earth,” stated Eric Glomski of Page Springs Cellars and Vineyards. “In the big picture, the river is a gigantic indicator and metaphor for the condition of our landscape and our relationship to it.”
Whitney noted that FVRG was not alone in its efforts to get the offset program off the ground. The program was developed in partnership with, and funded by, The Nature Conservancy in Arizona, the Walton Family Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. FVRG serves as the administrator of the program under the guidance of a local advisory council.
“We are delighted to be working with so many good partners, and with Verde Valley landowners and businesses who have stepped up to be leaders in shared stewardship of the watershed,” said Kim Schonek of The Nature Conservancy’s Arizona chapter.
Jocelyn Gibbon, an organizer of the Verde River Exchange and principal of Freshwater Policy Consulting, stated that if nothing is done to address the issue “area water levels and river flows will potentially continue to decline .... As a community we have the potential to shift this outcome, preserve a flowing river and protect water supplies, while still promoting sustainable economic development. We are so excited to be working with community leaders on this project.”