Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Arizona: Nonpoint Source Management Zones - A New Tool for the Upper Gila Watershed


The Upper Gila watershed occupies an area larger than five eastern states. With 7,200 square miles in Arizona, and another 5,000 square miles across the border in New Mexico, it is a clear example of the usefulness of organizing smaller nonpoint source management zones for programs initiated under section 319.

Land ownership of the Gila management zone is comprised of 10 percent private, 34 percent Indian Nation, 45 percent federal and 15 percent state trust lands. The principal industries are agriculture, ranching, mining, recreation, and small businesses. The Upper Gila River violates water quality standards for turbidity, heavy metals, fecal coliform, and pH level.

It's all in the planning

The San Carlos/Safford/Duncan Nonpoint Source Management Zone, on the eastern side of Arizona, was established in 1993. Led by volunteers representing a cross-section of communities, the advisory group developed a long-range strategic plan designed specifically for the watershed to address known nonpoint source pollution issues such as salinity, turbidity, and pesticides in groundwater. The plan introduces time-tested strategies to manage nonpoint sources holistically. A significant component of the plan has been to form a contract with Arizona State University to perform an ecological inventory and analysis of the Gila River. In cooperation with local community colleges, the study will focus on collecting information and incorporating all known historical data into one document. The study is expected to be a benchmark for all future studies and projects involving this management zone.
  • Historically, throughout the Safford Valley, high levels of salinity have threatened the Gila River. The advisory group has introduced a canal sampling program to monitor this problem and to gage the effectiveness of current irrigation practices. The Arizona Geological Survey is also helping to profile saline deposits in the watershed.

  • In most places, a shallow upper aquifer of good quality water is separated from a highly saline lower aquifer by a clay aquitard. Where the clay is fractured or discontinuous, artisan pressure forces saline groundwater into the upper aquifer, thereby creating local saline conditions.

  • The advisory group sponsored a Farm*A*Syst program developed especially for the San Carlos/Safford/Duncan Nonpoint Source Management Zone by the University of Arizona. The Farm*A*Syst program helps farmers and ranchers evaluate their land-use practices as possible sources of nonpoint source pollution.

The plan focuses on solutions to salinity and pesticides in groundwater, on Farm*A*Syst evaluations to help identify nonpoint sources, and on the introductin of fencing and other agricultural BMP's.
  • Grazing allotments are common within this management zone, particularly in an area designated as a National Riparian Conservation Area. As a best management practice, the advisory group has installed fences in this area to reduce the impact of livestock on water quality.

  • A toolbox of other BMPs for grazing, recreation, and sand and gravel operations, is being developed for implementation next year. Other activities that may contribute nonpoint source pollution to the environment must also be addressed through best management practices.
  • Educational outreach is an important aspect of the advisory group's program. Methods such as special event displays, a speakers' forum, meetings with local special interest groups, and multimedia outlets for news, updates, and progress reports have been developed.

CONTACTS: Russ Smith
(602) 207-4509
Mike Hill
(602) 207-4518
Arizona Department of Environmental Quality

Watershed Protection -
Verde Watershed Management Zone

In central Arizona, the Verde River and its tributaries represent 170 miles of flowing desert stream. The river is marked with marshes, canyons, and woodlands, and travels through privately owned lands, national forests, canyons, woodlands, and high desert regions. A section of the river south of Camp Verde has received the distinction as a wild and scenic river. Archaeologic ruins dot the river's landscape, dating to thousands of years before the present, and serve as a constant reminder of the river's value to those who came before us.

The Verde plays an important role for all who share its resources. Much of the river ecosystem provides habitat for endangered species, such as the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, southwest flycatcher, and the spikedace fish. The river also shares itself with those who enjoy swimming, fishing, and boating. Others depend on the river to irrigate their farmlands.

A variety of historical and existing land-use practices within the Verde watershed directly or indirectly threaten the integrity of the river's riparian ecosystem. Nonpoint source pollution runoff from overgrazed riparian areas, agricultural diversions, mining, sand and gravel operations, residential and commercial development, and recreational activities affect the water quality of the Verde River and its tributaries. Impacts from these activities have degraded riparian zones and disturbed the balance of riparian ecosystems, threatening habitats and species survival.

Yet the watershed's 5.2 million acres contains some of the most diverse and valuable natural and cultural resources in the Southwest. The population within the Verde watershed has surpassed a million with no sign of slowing down. The central Verde corridor of Sedona, Cottonwood, and Prescott is the fastest growing area in Arizona. Current land uses within the watershed are forestry, grazing, residential and commercial development, irrigated agriculture, recreation, and mining.

Watershed protection efforts

Numerous efforts are underway to protect the Verde River and its watershed from further degradation. EPA, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, and other agencies and groups are engaged in regulatory and nonregulatory activities. Consider, for example, the diversity of agencies and citizen groups and the strength of their mutual goals. Since recognition of the Verde as a nonpoint source management zone in 1993, a plethora of programs have become active. For example:

  • The Oak Creek National Monitoring Program is in its third year of monitoring Oak Creek and in its first year of implementing best management practices in the Oak Creek Canyon. The principal pollutant to Oak Creek is fecal coliform. Recreation, residential wastewaters, and wildlife have been identified by volunteer citizens as the principal sources of pollutants.

  • The U.S. Forest Service, Arizona State Parks, Coconino County Environmental Health Services, Yavapai County Environmental Service, and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality are developing a monitoring strategy for the entire length of Oak Creek to determine the health of the stream and to develop a management strategy for recreational users of the creek.

The Verde plays an important role for all who share its resources. Much of the river ecosystem provides habitat for endangered species, such as the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, southwest flycatcher, and the spikedace fish.
  • Recreation Resource Management, Inc., has installed trash receptacles throughout Oak Creek Canyon as a measure to keep litter from entering the stream. Homeowners associations operate a watchdog network to identify recreational vehicles and individuals who deposit their toilet loads or wash soiled diapers in the creek. The Oak Creek Canyon Property Owners Association has developed a grant application to study the treatment capabilities of the canyon's soils, and the Coconino County Environmental Health Service has implemented a sampling regime along popular recreational reaches of the stream to test for fecal and E. coli contamination.

  • Slide Rock State Park hosts an average of 2,000 visitors per day each year. Parking along the road allows another 4,000 people access to the popular recreation area. The U.S. Forest Service and Arizona State Parks have recently improved the trail leading to the tourist facilities located adjacent to the creek. The station was also extensively renovated to make it safer and more attractive to visitors.

  • Arizona State Parks has published a water quality booklet using state park funds, and printed in English and Spanish.


  • riends of the Forest have been awarded a 319 grant to develop an educational program for the Sedona Oak Creek area. The program will target school-age children and tourists driving through the canyon.

  • The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, working with Coconino County Environmental Health Services, Yavapai County Environmental Services, and the Oak Creek Canyon Property Owners Association, has nearly completed the Oak Creek Septics Initiative. This initiative will allow residents living within the canyon to repair or replace failing septic systems. The property owners association has agreed to educate residents living along Oak Creek to encourage them to take advantage of this program.

  • The Oak Creek Canyon Task Force, a volunteer citizens committee of land resource managers and special interest advocates (e.g., the Northern Audubon Society, Keep Sedona Beautiful, the Sedona Chamber of Commerce, and the World Survivalist Foundation), is developing long-term strategies to maintain or improve Oak Creek's water quality.

  • The Arizona Department of Transportation has installed over 300 yards of post and cable along Route 89A to limit parking access to the Creek. More fencing will probably be added.

  • The Verde Watershed Watch is a 319 program that involves seven high schools located throughout the Verde Watershed. Each school has established a sample areaon the Verde or on a tributary to the Verde to measure water quality. The monitors also describe the riparian corridor and land uses around the sample area. The results are displayed during the town of Cottonwood's "Verde River Days," so several thousand people learn about the quality of the river's health.

  • Verde Irrigation Diversion Program, also a 319 program, is guided by a volunteer citizens group made up of government and local citizen representatives from the watershed. Its purpose is to develop and implement irrigation diversion structures that will have a minimal impact on the Verde River. Local cattle ranchers have played a vital role in this program.

  • Verde Watershed Association, a volunteer group created by citizens of the watershed to look at water use planning, facilitate communication, and build consensus on natural resource issues, works primarily to ensure sufficient flows in the Verde River to maintain a healthy river ecosystem, and enough water supplies to accommodate realistic levels of future development within the Verde River basin. The Verde Watershed Association is currently undergoing a review of its structure and organization in an attempt to better meet the needs of the residents of the Verde watershed while maintaining the integrity of the Verde River.

  • The Verde Cooperative River Basin Study was initiated in 1994 at the request of local sponsors, the watershed association, and the six natural resources conservation districts within the Verde watershed. The Natural Resources Conservation Service conducted the study with the cooperation of EPA, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, and other state and federal agencies. Its objective is to gather all watershed data into a central database for general public access through Verde's Internet home page (www.verde.org). This database will help citizens understand the watershed and its natural resources and support better land use planning despite pressures from residential and commercial development, grazing, sand and gravel operations, and recreation.

CONTACT: Daniel Salzler
Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
(602) 207-4007


Jump to main content.