The upper and middle Verde River watershed in west-central Arizona is an area rich in natural beauty and cultural history and is an increasingly popular destination for tourists, recreationists, and permanent residents seeking its temperate climate. The diverse terrain of the region includes broad desert valleys, upland plains, forested mountain ranges, narrow canyons, and riparian areas along perennial stream reaches. The area is predominantly in Yavapai County, which in 1999 was the fastest-growing rural county in the United States (Woods and Poole Economics, Inc., 1999); by 2050, the population is projected to more than double. Such growth will increase demands on water resources. The domestic, industrial, and recreational interests of the population will need to be balanced against protection of riparian, woodland, and other natural areas and their associated wildlife and aquatic habitats. Sound management decisions will be required that are based on an understanding of the interactions between local and regional aquifers, surface-water bodies, and recharge and discharge areas. This understanding must include the influence of climate, geology, topography, and cultural development on those components of the hydrologic system.
In 1999, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR), initiated a regional investigation of the hydrogeology of the upper and middle Verde River watershed. The project is part of the Rural Watershed Initiative (RWI), a program established by the State of Arizona and managed by the ADWR that addresses water supply issues in rural areas while encouraging participation from stakeholder groups in affected communities. The USGS is performing similar RWI investigations on the Colorado Plateau to the north and in the Mogollon Highlands to the east of the Verde River study area (Parker and Flynn, 2000). The objectives of the RWI investigations are to develop: (1) a single database containing all hydrogeologic data available for the combined areas, (2) an understanding of the geologic units and structures in each area with a focus on how geology influences the storage and movement of ground water, (3) a conceptual model that describes where and how much water enters, flows through, and exits the hydrogeologic system, and (4) a numerical ground-water flow model that can be used to improve understanding of the hydrogeologic system and to test the effects of various scenarios of water-resources development. In 2001, Yavapai County became an additional cooperator in the upper and middle Verde River RWI investigation.