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Innovation: a community programme to preserve the river Verde in Arizona

The Verde River, which joins the Salt River at Phoenix, is a unique and important resource in Arizona (USA). In this State affected by drought, the Verde, which flows throughout the year, is precious, whether for biodiversity (it feeds one of the last of the country’s willow and poplar forests), leisure or the health of the Colorado River. However, competing demands for water from the population and companies of Phoenix downstream, and from pumping in the Big and Little Chino valleys upstream, are exerting increasingly heavy pressure on the Verde’s watershed.

A local and voluntary initiative

To deal with this situation, an innovative local programme has been launched at the initiative of civil society in a sector without any regulations regarding water withdrawals. The association, “The Friends of the Verde River Greenway” has developed a voluntary mechanism called the Verde River Exchange, a water offset credit market. It brings together the users of surface and underground water (wine growers, industrial companies, etc.) around a credit exchange system, in view to promoting the sustainable development of water resources and prevent the river from drying up. In practice, those who withdraw water from underground resources purchase water offset credits from the users of surface water (the Verde and its tributaries) who have made water savings (for example, by irrigating less) in a given year. The latter will be rewarded for this effort and the other users can buy this water credit for the same amount in order to withdraw water from the aquifers, thereby maintaining levels at equilibrium.

The final objective is to keep more water in the Verde by matching the water savings of one user with the water consumption of another.

Collective awareness of the role of rivers

Since its introduction in 2016 with the support of the Nature Conservancy, the programme has led to a reduction of more than  38,000 m3 pumped from the groundwater, thus keeping this volume in the river. Around ten users committed themselves to saving water in return for a water offset credit of $200 for 1,300 m3 and at present six buyers, aware of the impact of their activity on the river and the community, are paying up to $800 a year to withdraw water, following a rationale in the general interest. The well-being of the river depends on economic activities such as tourism and wine growing, but it also depends on protecting the fauna and flora and improving the living environment. The next step is to get municipalities and other large users to join the programme.

Although the programme’s figures are still modest figures, it has led to a discussion on water resource management in the Verde valley and has proven that local solutions capable of inspiring other local communities can be found. It has above all stirred awareness of the role played by this river. Other actions taken to restore it, such as combating invasive species and changing cultural practices, have facilitated this sense of repossession.

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