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Central Highlands Planning Area Water Resource Issues - Planning and Conservation and Watershed Groups

A number of complex water resource issues exist in the Central Highlands Planning Area.  Issues have been identified in water resource studies, by community watershed groups, through the distribution of surveys, and from other sources.  Issues and planning, conservation and research activities are discussed in this section.

Planning and Conservation

Many communities in the planning area are facing rapid population growth in a region of the state where physical and legal access to water supplies creates significant challenges.  These challenges have resulted in the formation of several community watershed groups, water resource studies and planning and drought response and water conservation efforts.  Yavapai County is a major governmental entity in the planning area with the largest county land base.  Because the County had a population of over 125,000 in the 2000 Census, it is required to include a water resource element in its General Plan. Its plan recognizes the need for public education and sees the county’s role as a facilitator of sound water resource management practices.  The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, along with cities, towns, tribes and the Department of Water Resources created the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee (WAC) to provide a water management strategy for Yavapai County.  The goals of the county’s general plan as they compare with the activities of the WAC are included in Yavapai County’s General Plan.

Montezuma's Castle

Montezuma's Castle, Verde River Basin

The City of Cottonwood acquired private water companies to improve water resource management.  The town is a participant in the WAC as are a number of communities in the Verde River Basin including Sedona, Clarkdale and Camp Verde.

The Town of Payson is the largest community in the planning area.  Because its water system is drought sensitive and the community faces rapid population growth, the Town has undertaken a variety of water resource management activities.  It has adopted ordinances that place conservation and no-impact requirements on new developments including prohibitions on swimming pools, turf and evaporative coolers in buildings over 3,000 square feet.  It also imposes a water-development impact fee on new development.  New residential subdivisions are limited to 20 lots and builders must provide their own sources of water without impacting Payson’s water supplies (Maguire, 2005).  Payson has a conservation water rate structure, a water conservation education program and a drought plan.  Supply augmentation activities include using effluent for turf irrigation and groundwater recharge, and development of a program to transport 3,000 acre-feet of water from C.C. Cragin reservoir to Payson as provided for under the Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act.

Local Drought Impact Groups (LDIGs) are county-level voluntary groups created to coordinate drought public awareness, provide impact assessment information to local and state leaders, and implement and initiate local drought mitigation and response actions. These groups are coordinated by local representatives of Arizona Cooperative Extension and County Emergency Management and supported by ADWR’s Statewide Drought Program.  To date, a group has been formed in Yavapai County.  Click here for more information on LDIGs.

Watershed Groups and Studies

Several groups have formed in the planning area to address water resource issues. Among the most active groups are the Citizens Water Advocacy Group, Coconino Plateau Water Advisory Group, Mogollon Highlands Partnership, Northern Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, Upper Agua Fria Watershed Partnership, Verde Valley Water Users, Inc., Verde Watershed Association and the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee.  In 2005, Congress passed the Northern Arizona Land Exchange and Verde River Partnership Act, but to date no appropriations to fund the partnership have been made.  A description of those groups that are part of the Department’s Rural Watershed Initiative Program, including participants, activities and issues, is found in Appendix D.  Two of the groups mentioned above and listed in Appendix D encompass more than one planning area. Primary issues identified by these groups that pertain to the Central Highlands Planning area are summarized as follows:

Oak Creek

Oak Creek, Verde River Basin


  • Unregulated lot splits
  • Proposed growth in Mayer, Bensch Ranch, Spring Valley and elsewhere
  • Thousands of private domestic wells and more pending
  • Significant projected growth

Water Supplies and Demand:

  • Limited and deep groundwater supplies
  • Access to water development on public lands
  • Limited groundwater data
  • Limited supplies to meet projected demands
  • Limited water resources to meet current demands
  • Environmental, supply, treatment, transportation and financing costs associated with augmentation from C.C. Cragin reservoir
  • Seasonal demand/peaking problems
  • Potential impacts resulting from the transfer of Big Chino water to Prescott and Prescott Valley


  • Private water companies and domestic water improvement district conflicts
  • Interbasin transfer conflicts resulting from Payson’s ability to pump from two separate basins
  • Unresolved Indian Water Rights settlements
  • Subflow decision and impact on legal access to water

Water Quality:

  • Water quality issues in Verde Valley
  • Potential impacts from septic systems
  • Ability to meet new arsenic standard


  • Limited funding resources for planning, projects, infrastructure and studies
  • High cost of water augmentation projects
  • Costs associated with hauling water
  • Infrastructure needs for private and public water companies


  • Drought sensitive groundwater and surface water supplies
  • Drought sensitivity in Pine and Strawberry


  • ESA issues involving groundwater usage impacts on perennial streams
  • Critical habitat area in Verde Valley for Willow Flycatcher
  • Environmental issues pertaining to Fossil Creek and the Verde River
  • Invasive species


  • Poorly constructed and maintained infrastructure in some areas
  • Competition between watershed groups for funding and technical support

A number of studies have been conducted in parts of the planning area, particularly in the Verde River Basin.  Many of these studies were undertaken as a result of initiatives by watershed groups and communities.  Some of the noteworthy regional studies have been mentioned in previous sections and an extensive list of studies are included in the references and suggested reading section found at the end of each basin section in this volume.  In addition, several studies are in process or have recently been finalized.  The USBOR along with Gila County, the Town of Payson and a number of participating agencies is finalizing the Mogollon Rim Water Resources Management Study, which covers the Payson, Pine, Strawberry and Star Valley area. Northern Arizona University used USGS geophysical data to construct a 3-D geologic model that represents the subsurface geologic framework within the Big Chino Sub-basin and Prescott AMA. The model aids in understanding how groundwater flows within and between these areas (Fry, 2006) The USBOR in cooperation with Yavapai County WAC and the Department are in the process of developing the Central Yavapai Highlands Water Resource Management Study. The study group includes WAC members, NGOs and state and federal agencies.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has produced a rapid watershed assessment (RWA) for three watersheds in the planning area: the Agua Fria River, Carrizo Creek and Hassayampa River watersheds. These watersheds extend beyond the planning area boundaries. An RWA is a concise report containing information on natural resource conditions and concerns at the 8-digit HUC level. They are intended to provide sufficient information and analysis to generate an appraisal of the conservation needs of the watershed as well as serve other uses. (Reports are available online).

Arizona NEMO (Non-point Education for Municipal Officials) has produced watershed based plans for the Salt, Upper Agua Fria and Verde Watersheds. These plans characterize and classify watershed features. The goal of NEMO is to educate land-use decision makers to make choices and take actions that will lessen nonpoint source pollution and protect natural resources. (Plans are available online)


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References and Supplemental Reading for the Central Highlands Planning Area Overview

Colorado River Central Highlands Planning Area Download entire Central Highlands Planning Area Atlas in pdf Verde River Lake Pleasant