Rim Country residents and visitors can learn how a massive effort by multiple groups has helped restore the Verde River when the Library Friends of Payson welcome speaker Doug Von Gausig Monday, June 17.

The program is at 10:30 a.m. in the community room of the Payson Public Library, 328 N. McLane Road, and is free and open to the public.

Von Gausig is the executive director of the Verde River Institute, a naturalist and four-term mayor of Clarkdale.

He graduated from Arizona State University and served as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Von Gausig also volunteers his time with the Arizona State Parks Family Campout program as a volunteer naturalist.

He will talk about conservation efforts on the Verde River and will include a discussion of the Verde River Institute’s (VRI) kayak familiarization tours and the multiple ways the VRI monitors the health of the river, which is fed by the Rim’s own East Verde River and Fossil Creek, among others.

The monitoring programs engage citizen scientists: families, teachers, policy makers and the general public, who participate in the science and conservation of the Verde River’s riparian ecosystem.

Kayak familiarization trips

One of its most popular public education programs is its kayak familiarization trips. In 2019, the Verde River Institute will conduct its sixth year of kayak trips. In 2018, it took nearly 500 people on a four-hour kayak trip from Lower Tapco River Access Point, three miles upstream from Clarkdale to Tuzigoot River Access Point. Along the way, participants are educated about the Verde’s value, its challenges, how the ecosystem works and what is needed in the future to keep it flowing.

The VRI supplies kayaks, paddles, personal flotation devices, shuttle services, safety personnel and guides for the trips, which run from March through October each year.

Post-trip surveys indicate that more than 95 percent of participants feel the VRI has changed their understanding of the Verde (for the better), and that they will pay more attention to Verde River issues and general water issues in Arizona as a result of their trip.

In 2018, more than 200 school-aged kids were taken out on the river, often combining their kayak experience with a post-trip macroinvertebrate sampling study. In 2019 VRI plans to expand its student program and add student ambassadors as trip helpers.

In 2019, the VRI anticipates taking approximately 500 people out on these trips.

The success of VRI

Emery Cowan wrote in the Daily Sun of Flagstaff in September 2015, Arizona has killed seven of its desert rivers, drawing so much water that they no longer flow from their headwaters to their mouths, (Doug) Von Gausig said. The Salt. The San Pedro. The Santa Cruz. The Verde River was once close to being the eighth.

With 6,000 irrigated acres in the Verde Valley alone and the number of people living, and pumping groundwater, in the river’s watershed expected to nearly triple to 600,000 by 2050, there is no shortage of straws sucking up the Verde’s flows.

“Thirty years ago when we were trying to figure out how sure are we that this river is going to survive, I would have said 10 or 15 percent. Pretty dismal,” Von Gausig said. “Now, I say 85.”

The idea that the Verde River could experience a resurgence, from a waterway battered by years of thirsty, polluting activities to a verdant aquatic ribbon that supports recreation and churns economic engines, is a relatively new concept in the Verde Valley.

Efforts to spur this transformation have gained ground over the last six years or so thanks to a group of elected officials, government agencies, business leaders and conservation groups. Together, they have turned the future of the Verde into a story with promise.

Rallying to restore flows

Much of the work being done on the river has been moved along by a brigade of nonprofits that address everything from river education to riparian vegetation restoration to conservation among the river’s agricultural users.

While work to preserve the river goes back decades, many involved in the issue said a convergence of factors infused the effort with new energy and momentum around 2009.

That was the year the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic organization begun by Walmart’s founders, started a river conservation and restoration program called the Freshwaters Initiative. The Verde was named one of the project areas and over the past six years, the foundation has invested $5.8 million in local efforts to support tourism, river flow improvements and restoring riparian habitat, said Morgan Snyder, the foundation’s project lead for the Verde.

More on LFOP

The Library Friends of Payson presentation for the community, held in the library meeting room, will start with a short business meeting at 10 a.m., and the program begins at 10:30 a.m. The public is invited to both the business meeting and the free one-hour program. For details call the library at 928-474-9260.

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