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Securing Arizona's Water Future

Central Highlands Planning Area Environmental Conditions - Protected Areas and Unique Waters

Discussed in the Environmental Conditions section is vegetation, riparian protection through the Arizona Water Protection Fund Program, instream flow claims, threatened and endangered species, protected public lands and unique waters.

Click to view Figure 5.0-13

Figure 5.0-13 Central Highlands Protected Areas

Protected Areas

Four national monuments that protect prehistoric dwellings are located in the planning area (see Figure 5.0-13).  Montezuma Castle, Tonto and Tuzigoot National Monuments are small sites containing cliff dwellings or pueblos.  Tonto National Monument is located along Tonto Creek in the Salt River Basin while the others are located in the Verde Valley in the Verde River Basin.  Agua Fria National Monument, administered by the Bureau of Land Management, covers 71,700 acres in the Agua Fria Basin (see Figure 5.1-2).  It contains at least 450 prehistoric sites, four major settlement areas and the Agua Fria River canyon, which contains a perennial reach of the river.  

All or portions of 21 wilderness areas, encompassing 788,000 acres, are also found within the planning area.  Wilderness areas are designated under the 1964 Wilderness Act to preserve and protect the designated area in its natural condition.  Designated areas, their size, basin location and a brief description of the area are listed in Table 5.0-3 and shown on Figure 5.0-13.  All wilderness areas are located on National Forest Service lands with the exception of the Hassayampa River Canyon Wilderness which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management.  Most of the wilderness areas protect riparian habitat, rivers and streams and are located in the Verde River Basin.

The Hassayampa River Preserve, located south of Wickenburg, was established in 1986 by The Nature Conservancy.  The preserve protects spring-fed Palm Lake, a four-acre pond and marsh habitat that attracts water birds and provides habitat for endangered fish.  The Hassayampa River is perennial within the preserve and supports lush streamside habitat.

Approximately 1,000 acres of land at the headwaters of the Verde River are protected by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and The Nature Conservancy. These lands include the Verde River Springs Preserve (TNC) and the Upper Verde River Wildlife Area (AZGF). (TNC, 2008)

Unique and Other Managed Waters

Several “unique waters”, designated by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) pursuant to A.C.C. R18-11-112, as having exceptional recreational or ecological significance and/or providing habitat for threatened or endangered species, have been identified in the planning area.  These include:

  • Oak Creek, including the West Fork of Oak Creek in the Verde River Basin
  • Snake Creek, from its headwaters to its confluence with the West Fork of the Black River in the Salt River Basin
  • Hay Creek, from its headwaters to its confluence with the West Fork of the Black River in the Salt River Basin
  • Stinky Creek, from the Fort Apache Indian Reservation boundary to its confluence with the West Fork of the Black River in the Salt River Basin
  • Bear Wallow Creek, from its headwaters to the boundary of the San Carlos Indian Reservation in the Salt River Basin.

Other managed surface water in the planning area include two streams designated as Wild and Scenic Rivers and a lake.  Congress adopted the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in October 1968 to preserve selected rivers that possess “outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values” in their free-flowing condition for the benefit of present and future generations.  About 40 miles of the 170-mile long Verde River has been designated a Wild and Scenic River.  The Scenic River Area begins about six miles south of Camp Verde and extends to the boundary of the Mazatzal Wilderness in T11N, R6E; a reach of 18.3 miles.  South of this reach, the Wild River Area continues for another 22.2 miles to the river’s confluence with Red Creek within section 34, T9½N, R6E (see Figure 5.5-4). Under the Act the river area must be managed in a manner that protects and enhances its “outstandingly remarkable values” (NWSR, 2007)

Oak Creek

Oak Creek in the Verde River Basin. Oak Creek is one of the "unique waters" in the planning area.  Unique waters are designated by ADEQ as having exceptional recreational or ecological significance and or/providing habitat for threatened or endangered species.

In 2004, Arizona Public Service Company surrendered a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate hydroelectric power plants at Irving and Childs on Fossil Creek in the Verde River Basin near Strawberry.  As part of the decommissioning they agreed to remove project features and restore the landscape.  These two historic power plants were constructed beginning in 1908 and operated by turbines driven by water diverted from Fossil Creek.  This diversion captured most of the natural spring fed flow of the creek and fundamentally changed the character of the stream.  The springs that supply the base flow of Fossil Creek are rich in calcium carbonate that precipitates out and forms travertine dams.  Without the natural flow and travertine deposition the stream was no longer a series of pools impounded by travertine dams.  Following restoration of flow, native fish were removed and non-native fish eradicated from the stream in order to reestablish fish native to the system. In March 2009, 16.8 miles of Fossil Creek became only the second watercourse in the state to be designated as a Wild and Scenic River. This designation requires that the USFS prepare a management plan to protect the creek.

Stillman Lake is a narrow, 20-acre water body in the Verde River Basin formed  above a natural sediment dam near the headwaters of the Verde River south of Paulden and below Sullivan Dam.  The Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation are working together to manage Stillman Lake for native fish by eliminating non-native species. A draft Environmental Impact Assessment was released in March 2007 that proposed using a chemical piscicide to remove non-native fish and then restock the lake with native species (USFWS, 2007a). In May 2009, a decision and finding of no significant impact for the environmental assessment was released, finding that the best alternative was that proposed in the Assessment. (USFWS, 2009)

 

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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