10 million gallons of water left in the Verde River

October 2019—You’ve probably heard of carbon offsets. In some locations, you can do that with water too. It’s complicated in Arizona because of our laws which don’t recognize that groundwater and surface water are connected. But one of the Alliance members, Friends of the Verde River, has developed a voluntary water offset program for the Verde River. It’s kept around 10 million gallons of water in the river.

Much of the water used in the Verde Valley is groundwater, pumped from aquifers, but some users draw surface water from the Verde River and its tributaries. The exchange program is an effort to leave more water in the river, keeping it and its ecosystem healthier. The Verde is also a key water source for cities in metro Phoenix.

The Exchange is the only known voluntary groundwater offset program in the world, according to the organizing nonprofit Friends of the Verde River. The people who signed up for it did so not to meet any legal requirement, but because they wanted to help keep water flowing in a river that defines their community.

So how does it work? Think of it as your household checking account.

A farm or individual homeowner will promise to use less surface water than they would normally use by choosing crops that require less water or deciding not to irrigate a certain field for a certain season.

Friends of the Verde pays them $200 per acre-foot (about 326,000 gallons) of water saved, which translates into a "water offset credit" and more water remaining in the river.  

If you want to offset your water use, you purchase the credit (in the same way that you would purchase a carbon offset.)

Some of our certified sustainable businesses have participated in this program.

Buyers included Page Springs Cellars, The State Bar, Rainbow Acres, Sinagua Malt, The Fish’s Garden, and Merkin Vineyards.

The program wants to ensure that these offsets are tied to portions of the river system. So they have to match up buyers and sellers in the same section of the river. Over time, they hope the supply of these credits will expand so more of us can participate.