Arizona Open Land Trust Desert Rivers InitiativeIntroduction
In 2007, the Arizona Land and Water Trust launched the Desert Rivers and Riparian Heritage Initiative to develop and implement conservation strategies that will secure water to sustain the riparian habitat and rural livelihoods that enrich Arizona’s natural and cultural landscapes.  The Initiative supports the Trust’s mission to protect southern Arizona’s vanishing western landscapes and wildlife habitat.


Whitewater Draw (Photo: Henry Wallace for Arizona Land and Water Trust)

Ariaona Open Land Trust Desert Rivers InitiativeGoal
Secure land and water to protect and restore Arizona’s iconic cottonwood-willow galleries, instream flows, and riparian heritage.

Edgar Canyon (Photo: Josh Schacter for Arizona Land and Water Trust)

Ariaona Open Land Trust Desert Rivers InitiativeStrategy

  • Integrate water rights into conservation planning and projects. 
  • Produce a Handbook on water rights and water conservation opportunities.
  • Incentivize partnerships with willing landowners to balance environmental and human water needs.


San Pedro River (Arizona Land and Water Trust)

Ariaona Open Land Trust Desert Rivers InitiativeScope
Arizona's riparian heritage is closely tied to the fate of the Gila River -- a cradle of civilization in North America, the largest desert river in the U.S., and a linchpin of global bird diversity. The Gila River Watershed covers the southern two thirds of Arizona and is the geographic focus of the Trust's Desert Rivers and Riparian Heritage Initiative. Funded in part by the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, the MET Foundation, the Steven C. Leuthold Family Foundation, the RBC Blue Water Project, and a private family foundation, the goal of this collaborative initiative is to develop and implement conservation strategies that will secure water to sustain the riparian habitat and rural livelihoods that enrich Arizona's natural and cultural landscapes.


Ariaona Open Land Trust Desert Rivers InitiativeRiparian Heritage
It is estimated that less than 10% of Arizona's original riparian acreage
remains in its natural form. -- Arizona Riparian Council
Comparing the current and historical data illustrates the changes to
Arizona’s rivers: Arizona has lost 35% of our natural perennial flow. The
loss has been greatest on Arizona’s big rivers – the Colorado, Gila, Salt,
and Verde rivers – where 91% of free-flowing perennial miles have been
lost. - Arizona Freshwater Assessment, The Nature Conservancy (2006)

Holes in the Bucket?

Barriers to environmental water allocation in Arizona
1. Bifurcation of Water Rights System
2. Surface Water Rights Adjudication
3. Uneven Regulatory Authority
4. Market Competition
5. Unclear environmental Water Needs

Water to Protect and Restore Riparian Heritage:
A problem with deep taproots, sprouting solutions

1941 Wildlife, including fish, becomes beneficial use
1978 TNC applies for first instream flow application
1990 First Instream Flow Permit Issued
1991 ADWR Instream Flow Guidelines issued
1994 Arizona Water Protection Fund
2000 Gila IV: Subflow Settled?
2000 SDCP STAT adopts Riparian Protection and Restoration Element
2001 Governor’s Water Management Commission recommends riparian protection zones
2003 U.S. FWS issues Incidental Take Permit to SRP for Roosevelt Dam, activating 2002 HCP
2005 Phelps Dodge Case settles diversion issue
2007 Pima County Water Resource Element Amendment approved
2007 Sonoran Institute’s Sustainable Water Management Framework
2009 Benefiting Landowners and Desert Rivers: A Water Rights Handbook for Conservation Agreements in Arizona

Components:

  • Develop a clearinghouse of resources and practical expertise regarding water rights and conservation acquisitions by preparing a Handbook detailing:  (a) riparian conservation threats and opportunities; (b) a primer on Arizona water rights and administration; (c) existing and potential incentives and tools for securing water rights that protect and restore riparian habitat; and (d) best practices for incorporating water rights into conservation agreements.
  • Conduct focused outreach with stakeholders through a listening tour and workshop series anchored by the Handbook on water rights and conservation opportunities.
  • Design and implement pilot projects using innovative tools for securing water rights that benefit conservation values.
  • Integrate water resource data into conservation planning and priority setting to conserve and steward sensitive riparian habitat.
  • Link with efforts to build capacity for integrated land and water conservation at local, regional, state, and national levels.


Santa Lucia (Photo: Randy Prentice, Courtesy Faulkner Land Co.)
Ariaona Open Land Trust Desert Rivers InitiativeComponents
  • Develop a clearinghouse of resources and practical expertise regarding water rights and conservation acquisitions by preparing a Handbook detailing:  (a) riparian conservation threats and opportunities; (b) a primer on Arizona water rights and administration; (c) existing and potential incentives and tools for securing water rights that protect and restore riparian habitat; and (d) best practices for incorporating water rights into conservation agreements.
  • Conduct focused outreach with stakeholders through a listening tour and workshop series anchored by the Handbook on water rights and conservation opportunities.
  • Design and implement pilot projects using innovative tools for securing water rights that benefit conservation values.
  • Integrate water resource data into conservation planning and priority setting to conserve and steward sensitive riparian habitat.
  • Link with efforts to build capacity for integrated land and water conservation at local, regional, state, and national levels.


Lowland leopard frog at the West Branch (Photo: Arizona Land and Water Trust)

Ariaona Open Land Trust Desert Rivers InitiativePartnerships
Partnerships are the cornerstone of this approach.  The Handbook incorporates input from diverse partners. The ongoing listening tour will engage three target audiences for the Initiative, namely: landowners, conservation organizations, and local and state government agencies.


Whitewater Draw (Photo: Henry Wallace for Arizona Land and Water Trust)