Day 7: Farming, Mining, and the Grand Canyon

Verde River
Finding Solutions: Economics, Farmers, and Beer

While all eyes are on the Colorado, it’s important to remember that the river doesn’t operate in a vacuum - it works within a complex hydrological system that includes many other waterways as well, such as tributaries like the Verde River. The Verde is one of the last free flowing rivers in the state - and, unless something changes, it’s predicted to slow a trickle by 2050, due to irrigation and groundwater pumping. Collaborative efforts up and down the Verde (which includes partners like The Nature Conservancy, Arizona Water Institute, Arizona Game and Fish, irrigators, producers, Friends of the Verde River, and homeowners) are attempting to stem the tide, implementing on-the-ground fixes from the kind we hear about regularly - protecting riparian habitat, improving instream flows while making sure producers have enough water - to more creative, market-driven solutions: the Verde Valley Water Fund seeks investments by downstream users (in, say, Phoenix) to support practices in the Verde Valley that will protect their source of clean drinking water, and the Verde River Exchange allows homes and businesses to reduce their water usage, and in exchange sell those water credits to producers who want to continue their level of use. So where does the beer come in? Turns out malt barley grows really well in the Verde Valley, and uses far less water than alfalfa, the traditional crop. We visited farms that have switched to barley, and heard from farmers and conservationists about water-conservation successes and challenges.

Grand Canyon
Mining Moratorium Holds, But for How Long? 

Uranium mining can have a direct impact on water -- The Orphan Mine, shuttered in the 1980s, contaminated an aquifer that sits hydrologically above the Colorado River near the Grand Canyon area. Conservation groups and area tribes have raised concerns that the same may happen with other mines, especially given that very little is known about how groundwater moves in that system. In December, courts upheld a 20-year ban on uranium mining near the canyon, but in a separate ruling, the 9th Circuit ruled that the Canyon Mine - located 6 miles south of the Grand Canyon - will be allowed to proceed. Meanwhile, in Washington, the Trump administration says the ban will be revisited. We heard from the Grant Canyon Trust about how mining threatens the regions’s ecosystems and people, and from industry representatives about their response to criticism.