Friday, August 21, 2009

When the River Becomes a Swamp -- Part 2

Idyllic, isn't it?

The Verde River is high...ducks, blue herons, kingfishers and other wildlife "use" its braided path all the way to the Salt River far to the South.  

People. . . also. . .use the river and that's where trouble begins. Some use it for pleasure, others for commerce.  Some more wisely than others.

One of the more perceptive observers is Doug Von Gausig, the mayor of Clarkdale, Arizona.  Maybe a birder, he's certainly observant. Von Gausig has seen 175 species of birds on his property in the 7 years he’s been here.

Talking to "High Country News" in 2007, Von Gausig said, "...the Verde is more than bird habitat. The river is a touchstone for people who live near it...a place to spend time in, something beautiful, something that brings peace to their lives. (High Country News, "Battle for the Verde", May 14, 2007).

Today that sentiment may no longer be viable.  The river has changed.

Writing in the August 2009 Issue of The Noise, a monthly entertainment tabloid published in northern Arizona, Ellen Jo Roberts laments her aborted rafting trip on the Verde: "It's not an easy river"..."We never made it to (our destination)"..."Our plan was foiled by one portage too many...leaving us all sliced up with green reeds and weeds as sharp as paper cuts."

She explains, "...the river wasn't moving get anywhere we had to vigorously kick...or risk circling in the same spot all day."

Although it likely wasn't within the article's scope, she fails to pose a simple question, "Why...?, Why doesn't  the river flow?"  That's what rivers do.

The answer lies with commercial interests and the fact that no consideration of the Verde River is complete without mention of diversion dams and the dams' affect on the environmental qualities of the river.

Questions are are complex and tangled in antiquated Arizona water laws.

Let's try the easy way . . .
  • Diversion dams serve agricultural interests.  With limited supplies of water in Arizona, why are some land owners determined to grow what the environment won't support naturally?
  • If commercial interests are at stake, what ethic permits these interests to take primacy over personal enjoyment?
  • If water ownership is primal, does that owner have the right to take water until the very river is destroyed?
  • Do water rights effectively mean river ownership?
High above the Verde River are the remains of the Anasazi dwelling, Tuzigoot.  Inhabited from about 1125 - 1400 AD, these ancients knew enough, even with water control structures of their own, not to destroy the river.