skip to the content of this page Arizona's Official Website Arizona Department of Water Resources
Arizona Department of Water Resources Arizona's Official Web Site
Securing Arizona's Water Future
Ask us a question...Click for site mapClick to use the ADWR DictionaryDepartment Contact InformationADWR CalendarSend page to printerPlace a Bookmark hereSend a link to this pageDecrease font sizeIncrease font size

Rural Programs

Upper And Middle Verde


The Verde River Watershed, and in particular areas along the Verde River, with its pleasing climate, year-round water, beautiful and diverse landscapes, and close proximity to nearby desert and mountain resources are attracting people in ever increasing numbers. Without proper planning, Arizona is in danger of losing enormous economic, aesthetic, and environmental benefits associated with the Verde River and its tributaries and the riparian areas associated with each.

Watershed Studies

Reconnaissance Watershed Analysis on Upper and Middle Verde Watershed pdf

USGS OffSite Icon

USGS BIg Chino Groundwater Study, Dec 2005 OffSite Icon

[ Back to Watershed Map ]

The population of the major cities and towns within the Verde Watershed has more than doubled in the last 20 years and is projected to more than double again within the next 50 years.

Municipal water usage has increased by more than 39 percent over the last eight years and at the present rate of growth will increase by more than 400 percent over the next 50 years. Land uses are changing as more farms and ranches are subdivided and commercially developed directly affecting water usage. The number of wells is increasing proportionally with the rapid increase in urbanization, which will affect the volume of water available in the regional aquifer.


Many of Arizona’s rivers have been taken for granted lately by communities that have been developed next to the rivers. People have diverted and pumped water, built dams and channelized rivers, cut down trees for homes, fuel, and cropland, mined sand and gravel, poured chemicals and waste into the rivers, and recreated for more than a hundred years on the Verde River and its tributaries. These types of land and water uses without long-range planning may eventually result in dry riverbeds with no green vegetation, no fish or wildlife, no recreation attraction, and reduced economic potential.

It is unclear whether the current demands for surface water and groundwater within the Verde River Watershed have caused any significant impacts on baseflow levels of the Verde River itself. Increasing water demands at the current rate of population growth without long-term water resource planning, however, will eventually impact the availability of both surface water and groundwater. The Little Chino sub-basin of the Prescott AMA has experienced significant groundwater declines in some areas and these declines have reduced flow in Del Rio Springs. Similar effects on other springs could be seen in the future with unplanned continued development.

Little is known about how much groundwater is actually in storage in many areas of the Verde Watershed or about how water use in the Upper Verde may affect the continued availability of water for the Verde Valley, which depends on Verde River flows. These issues have caused a great deal of concern, expressed by water users within the Upper and Middle Verde areas as well as by downstream users of Verde River water, about the future availability and reliability of surface water and groundwater within the Verde Watershed.

Watershed Area

The Verde is located in Central Arizona and covers parts of Yavapai, Coconino, and Gila Counties. Included are the headwaters of the Verde River, Chino, Williamson, and Verde Valleys, the East Verde River, the incorporated areas of Prescott, and portions of the Cities of Payson and Flagstaff.

The Verde River basin covers approximately 5,500 square miles and is divided into the Big Chino, Verde Valley, and Verde Canyon sub-basins.


Physiographic Features

The Verde River Watershed encompasses an area that extends from the Coconino Plateau in the north to the USGS gaging station on the Verde River below Tangle Creek in the south, and from the Juniper and Santa Maria Mountains in the west to the Mogollon Rim in the east.

Within the watershed area are the headwaters of the Verde River, Chino, Williamson, and Verde Valleys, the East Verde River, and portions of the Cities of Prescott, Payson, and Flagstaff. The Verde River is a tributary to the Salt River and is part of the Colorado River System.

The total length of the Verde River in the study area, including the Big Chino Wash and its tributaries from north of Interstate 40 near Seligman to the USGS gaging station below the confluence with Tangle Creek is approximately 235 miles.

The total drainage of the study area is 5,501square miles. The elevation of the area ranges from 2,029 feet above sea level at the Verde River gaging station, 1.3 miles downstream from Tangle Creek and nine miles upstream from Horseshoe Dam, to 12,633 feet above sea level at Humphreys Peak in the San Francisco Mountains.

For purposes of this study, the Verde Watershed is divided into the Upper and Middle Verde regions, with the division occurring at the USGS gaging station on the Verde River near Paulden. The Upper Verde region encompasses the Williamson, Big, and Little Chino Valleys.

The Middle Verde region encompasses everything downstream of the USGS gaging station on the Verde River near Paulden to the USGS gaging station on the Verde River below Tangle Creek. The primary area of concern in the Middle Verde region is the Verde Valley.

The Big Chino Wash meanders through Chino Valley, which extends from Interstate 40 near Seligman in the north to very near Prescott in the southeast. The elevation of Chino Valley ranges from approximately 5,200 feet near Prescott and Seligman to about 4,300 feet at Sullivan Lake. The portion of Chino Valley within the Prescott AMA is known as the Little Chino Valley.

Chino Valley is bordered by the Juniper Mountains on the west, Santa Maria Mountains on the southwest, Sierra Prieta Mountains and portions of the Bradshaw Mountain Range on the south, and on the northeast by the Black Mesa. These mountain ranges typically reach elevations of 7,000 feet or more above sea level.

Two of the three primary tributaries feeding the Big Chino Wash originate in the Juniper and Santa Maria Mountains. They are Walnut Creek and its tributary Apache Creek and Williamson Valley Wash, which flows through Williamson Valley. The other tributary to Big Chino Wash originates on the Coconino Plateau and is known as Partridge Creek.

Big Chino Wash is dammed just south of Paulden to form Sullivan Lake. The watercourse below Sullivan Lake is considered to be the headwaters of the Verde River. The Verde River is perennial from just below Sullivan Lake to the end of the study area (143 miles).

From the headwaters below Sullivan Lake to Clarkdale, the Verde River flows through some very rugged and scenic country. Two major tributaries join the Verde in this stretch of the river. They are the Granite and Sycamore Creeks. Granite Creek and its two tributaries, Willow and Bannon Creeks, originate in the mountainous areas south of Prescott. Dams have been constructed on all three of these waterways to provide water to the City of Prescott and the Chino Valley Irrigation District (CVID). The construction of these dams created Willow Creek Reservoir, Upper and Lower Goldwater Lakes, and Watson Lake. Granite Creek flows north through Chino Valley and joins the Verde River about three miles below Sullivan Lake.

Sycamore Creek originates on the Coconino Plateau and joins the Verde River downstream from Perkinsville. Sycamore Creek runs through some scenic canyons and is protected mostly by the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area.

The area from Clarkdale to below Camp Verde is known as the Verde Valley. This Valley ranges in elevation from approximately 3,542 feet at Clarkdale to 3,133 feet at Camp Verde. Historically, this area has been more densely populated than other areas on the Verde River. The Black Hills bound the Verde Valley to the south and west, which reach an elevation of 7,815 feet at Mingus Mountain, and on the north and east by the Coconino Plateau and the Mogollon Rim. The major tributaries that contribute to the Verde River in this region are the Oak, Dry, Wet Beaver, and West Clear Creeks. All these waterways originate either on the Coconino Plateau or the Mogollon Rim.

The mountains of the Coconino Plateau and the Mogollon Rim are generally higher in elevation than other mountain ranges previously mentioned. The average elevation of these mountains is between 7,000 and 8,000 feet with Humphreys Peak in the San Francisco Mountains and Baker Butte on the Mogollon Rim reaching elevations of 12,633 and 8,074 feet respectively. Because the Coconino Plateau and Mogollon Rim are higher in elevation than other mountains, precipitation is generally greater on the slopes of these areas. As a result, all tributaries that originate on these slopes tend to carry more water for longer periods throughout the year.

Downstream from Camp Verde, the Verde River again flows through some very rugged country. Three primary tributaries flow into the Verde River in the stretch below Camp Verde to below the mouth of Tangle Creek. The three tributaries are Fossil Creek, East Verde River, and Tangle Creek. Fossil Creek and the East Verde River originate from the Mogollon Rim. Tangle Creek originates in the Black Hills.

Oak Creek and the East Verde River are both perennial throughout their entire lengths.

Wet Beaver, West Clear, and Fossil Creeks are perennial for most of their lengths and only become intermittent or ephemeral at their lower reaches. Some of the other washes and creeks such as Sycamore, Dry Beaver, Walnut, and Apache Creeks are perennial for specific reaches of their course.



Arizona has two seasons of the year when precipitation is especially common. A wet season in winter usually between December and March and a wet season in summer usually between July and September. In winter, large cyclonic storms originate in the northern Pacific Ocean that may spread precipitation statewide. This precipitation is normally gentle. In the Verde River watershed, much of it may occur in the form of snow, especially at the higher elevations. These storms can last a few days depositing a foot or more of snow over large portions of the watershed. Orographic uplifting caused by the forced uplifting of air masses by mountain ranges accounts for the increased amounts of precipitation along mountain ranges.

Winter storms produce most of the usable surface water supply. Summer precipitation occurs as a result of the seasonal shifting of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITC); the area where trade winds converge. This shift of the ITC brings Arizona under the influence of subtropical air masses. The influx of warm, moist air usually from July through September is called monsoon. The sources of this warm, moist air are primarily the Gulf of Mexico and the Sea of Cortez. The percentage of annual precipitation resulting from monsoon rains is normally highest in southeastern Arizona and decreases toward the northwestern part of the State. In the central region of the State including the Verde River watershed, the summer monsoon accounts for an increase in precipitation primarily during July and August.

Summer precipitation is the result of convection; the rising of heated, less dense, moisture-laden air that forms thunderstorms. These thunderstorms usually form over mountains and result in isolated, often violent downpours. Water from these downpours may cause short, sometimes hazardous runoff better known as flash flooding.

Mean annual precipitation in the Verde River watershed ranges from 10 to 20 inches in the valleys and plateaus to more than 25 inches in the higher mountains. On the windward (southern and western) side of the highest mountains such as the San Francisco Peaks, precipitation exceeds 30 inches and in some years may exceed 40 inches.


Temperatures in Arizona vary greatly from season to season and from one area of the State to another. These large variations in temperature result mainly from differences in elevation. In summer, average temperatures change with elevation uniformly throughout the state from the mid 90s at altitudes below 500 feet, to the high 50s at altitudes above 8,000 feet.

Latitude is also a factor in temperature differences, especially in winter when stations in the northeastern part of the state are often ten degrees cooler than those at a similar elevation in the southeastern part of the state. The most pleasant months in Arizona are in fall and spring. Clear skies, little precipitation, and large daily temperature changes characterize these months. These large daily changes in temperature are caused by intense surface heating during the day and radiational cooling at night. In late winter and spring it is not unusual for a diurnal temperature range of 30ºF to 40ºF and sometimes exceeding 50ºF.

In the Verde River Study area, most communities are located at elevations between 3,000 and 5,200 feet in a climate that is generally quite pleasant during the summer months. This is especially true for those communities located above 5,000 feet in elevation. Daytime temperatures during the summer normally range from the upper 80s to low 90s with occasional periods of low 100s occurring during periods of clear skies and low humidity. Mean daily minimum and maximum temperatures in winter generally range from the low 20s to mid 30s and the low 50s to low 60s respectively.


Moisture leaves the surface of the earth and bodies of water through the processes of evaporation and transpiration. Direct evaporation from the Verde Watershed study area ranges from 85 to 110 inches annually from a Class A pan (Laboratory of Climatology, 1975).

Ordinarily only the upper 30 cm (1 foot) of soil is dried by evaporation in a single dry season.

Plants draw the soil water into their systems through vast networks of tiny roots. This soil water, after being carried upward through the trunk and branches into the leaves, is discharged through leaf pores into the atmosphere in the form of water vapor. This process is known as transpiration. The combined loss by both processes is known as evapotranspiration. Factors such as time of year, temperature, length of day, amount of sunlight received, humidity, and wind velocity are all contributing factors to the evaporation process. The amount and extent of vegetation cover and vegetation type, such as deciduous or coniferous trees and phreatophytic or xerophytic plants, are factors that contribute to the amount of transpiration.

In the Verde Valley Study area, the average annual potential evapotranspiration rate for the frost-free period varies from 15 inches along the Mogollon Rim in the northeastern part of the study area to 25 inches in the Verde Valley. The estimated annual evapotranspiration for the Verde Valley from the USGS gaging station on the Verde River near Paulden to below the USGS gaging station on the East Verde River near Childs is approximately 35,000 acre-feet.

Additional Information

In 2000, the Arizona Department of Water Resources published the Verde River Watershed Study, an exhaustive review of the the Upper and Middle Verde River and surrounding lands. Copies of this study are available from the Department’s Water Resources Information Central.


Hydrology Division Navigation Links

Use the above links to navigate the Hydrology Division