FEATURED PROJECT

Upper Verde River Watershed – Aquifer Protection and Resilient Grassland Conservation Strategy

Upper Verde Watershed, AZ

Upper Verde River Watershed – Aquifer Protection and Resilient Grassland Conservation Strategy (Upper Verde River) was funded by the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The project will address pressing water-related challenges, protect high-quality grassland habitat, and enhance wildlife connectivity in the Upper Verde River watershed of Arizona through a Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant award to acquire conservation easements. 

This project will use RCPP funds to create a voluntary, incentive-based program that preserves the natural resources and agricultural uses of the focus area. The tool for achieving goals will be the strategic implementation of entity-held conservation easements, with a 5-year goal of the perpetual encumbrance of up to 20,000 acres of private lands. 

To help achieve these goals, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and project partners, including the Central Arizona Land Trust, will hold, monitor and enforce easements on private land within the Upper Verde Watershed. Securing easements allows TNC and partners to develop conservation practices on protected lands to improve grassland and soil conditions. The focus area of the project is the 345,000-acre Chino Valley Grasslands, overlying the Big Chino Aquifer. At present, conservation easements are the only available tool to address Arizona’s rural groundwater management challenges and protect the aquifer that supports the Upper Verde River. 

“We are thrilled to have received such a sizeable grant from the USDA NRCS to continue our conservation work on the Verde River, whose preservation is not only vital for wildlife but also for agriculture operations and Arizona communities downstream. Our work along the Verde River has focused on innovative solutions with private industry, farmers and ranchers, landowners, communities, and government agencies, and this grant will bolster that work.”

The Upper Verde River winds its way through a rugged canyon in central Arizona.
The Upper Verde River in Arizona (Photo: Stephen Probert, The Nature Conservancy)

This RCPP will protect resilient native grasslands, important wildlife corridors, and habitat for grassland dependent wildlife at the landscape scale. The Project Area is one of Arizona’s largest and most intact native grasslands, designated by NRCS as Grasslands of Special Significance.

The Upper Verde River RCPP will begin in 2024. The project was funded by NRCS for $11.5 million and includes Inflation Reduction Act funds. NRCS funds will be matched 1:1, for a total grant award of $23 million. This project will complement the work of partners including the Salt River Project, Central Arizona Land Trust, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and municipalities in the area.

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