The year 2017 has already brought some major changes for the Verde River Basin Partnership and the Friends of Verde River Greenway. On the first of the year, the merger of the two water advocacy groups became official, and on Tuesday, March 7, they held their first meeting as a joint organization.
Brent Bitz, former board member of the Partnership, and Chip Norton, president of Friends, spoke about the organizations’ previous missions and achievements and provided an outlook to future goals.
The Partnership was founded in 2005 by U.S. Sen. John McCain and was a community-based organization, whose associates — such as Verde Valley cities and towns, various business groups and companies, as well as some individual members — had a joint interest in sustaining the Verde River. The Partnership provided Verde Valley communities with scientific information and strategies to manage and secure the Verde River’s water system.
Bitz explained that even though the Partnership was created through federal legislation, federal funding for their research on the long-term consequences of different water uses of the Verde River was scarce. As a result, the Partnership became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2011, and found a primary donor in the Walton Family Foundation.
Since its founding, the Partnership has collaborated with the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct numerous studies on the impact of human activity on the Verde River, informed the community about the results in public meetings and presentations, and put together the Verde River Basin Water-Resources Primer, an illustrated textbook that is available online for free and has served as a scientific reference for community leaders and interested citizens since it was first published in 2012.
However, perhaps the Partnership’s greatest achievement, and the one Bitz was most proud of, is the scientific and fact-based approach the organization has taken on an issue that can be potentially politically polarizing.
During their strategic review in 2016, the Partnership came to the conclusion that while the organization did have strong roots in science, the branch of community advocacy was in need of expansion. It was decided that collaborating with another organization instead of building up such a large project alone would be a better use of time and money, and so the merger with Friends was born.
According to Bitz, merging had multiple benefits for the Partnership. Since the organizations’ missions were largely the same — preserving the Verde River in the broadest sense — the merger eliminated a duplication of activities, provided a stronger financial sustainability, since all funds now flow to the use of one organization, and made public communication more effective.
Also, Bitz said that the public seemed to think there were too many water organizations. Through the merger, Friends now remains the one substantial group dedicated to the Verde River that combines the strengths of both Friends and the Partnership.
Norton went on to explain more about Friends’ programs and future goals. Friends was established in 2007 as an affiliate of the Arizona State Parks Foundation and became an independent 501(c)(3) in 2011, the same year as the Partnership.
Norton introduced three of Friends’ main programs: The Verde Watershed Restoration Coalition, One for the Verde and the Verde River Exchange.
The VWRC is the biggest project, with 13 public partners and 221 private landowners striving to improve the habitat around the river. “This is really a non-partisan issue,” Norton said. “These are people from the whole political spectrum; everybody wants to take care of their land.”
One for the Verde includes 53 local businesses that support different conservation projects across the Verde watershed. One for the Verde Coordinator Melissa Robinson said that businesses appreciate the opportunity to support efforts to conserve the Verde River, and are excited to receive questions from custumers about their partnership with the program.
The Verde River Exchange works to reduce total water use through its Water Offset Program. A seller, usually a private landowner, agrees to reduce water use for one year, which creates a water offset credit that can be bought by a business wishing to reduce its water footprint.
Norton also addressed concerns over the influence of population growth on the Verde River, but stressed that the question is not how to stop growth, but how to grow in a way that lessens negative impacts. “Rather than saying, ‘growth is bad,’ we should be asking, ‘How do we grow sustainably?’” he said.
As for future goals, Norton said that Friends will establish a new three-year strategic plan as well as a new communications plan to improve relations with the Verde Valley communities. Also, a new website will be up soon. Community presentations will be held regularly as usual, and Friends’ newsletters and e-blasts will also continue.
For members of the community wanting more in-depth knowledge about the Verde River and the efforts to protect it and its surrounding habitat, Friends is holding its first Verde River State of the Watershed Conference Wednesday and Thursday, May 10 and 11. The program consists of different field trips as well as social gatherings and presentations. Registration is already open and the public is invited to attend.
More information about Friends and the conference can be found at verderivergreenway.org. BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS