Giant reed a massive menace along the Verde River

“Before” – Friends of the Verde River

One of Arizona’s few remaining perennial rivers, the Verde, is home to an amazing diversity of wildlife. Nearly half of the state’s bald eagle nest territories are located along the river. Roughly 10 percent of Arizona’s rarest forest type—the species-rich Fremont Cottonwood/Goodding Willow habitat—can be found along its banks.

The upper Verde is still relatively remote and isolated. As is flows south, it winds its way through the beautiful and arid landscape southwest of Sedona, Arizona. Its flow provides a lush, green corridor of plants and is home to at least 270 species of birds, 94 species of mammals and 76 species of native amphibians and reptiles. Over 60 miles of the river is federally protected under the Wild & Scenic Act.

Yet the Verde River is in danger of running dry.

For the second year in a row, Forever Our Rivers provided a grant to Friends of the Verde River to help them remove giant reed (Arundo donax), along Oak Creek, which flows into the middle Verde from the east.

One of the fastest-growing terrestrial plants in the world, giant reed competes with native cottonwood and willow for moisture, suppressing the success of native seedlings. Giant reed’s stem and leaves contain a variety of nasty chemicals, rendering it unsuitable as food or nesting habitat for wildlife. It offers less shade than cottonwood and willows, contributing to higher water temperatures. And even worse, dense, woody stands of giant reed are very susceptible to high-intensity wildfire.

“Wildfire is typically rare along rivers. However, it is becoming more common around the state,” said Willie Sommers, invasive plant program coordinator of the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, who partners with Friends of the Verde. “Removing giant reed checks a lot of boxes—improved wildlife habitat, reduced risk of wildfire and improved access for recreation,” Sommers said.

Neighboring landowner Dean Bowen agrees. “We had a fire across the creek in Cornville that exploded to about 1,500 acres in a matter of three or four hours,” said Bowen. Shortly thereafter, he and his neighbors instituted a community evacuation call system, just in case.

Friends of the Verde collaborates with the department and Arizona Conservation Corps, Verde Earth Technologies and Conservation Legacy field crews. Together they monitor previously infested areas of the watershed and treat any resprouts, leveraging previous investments of $4.5 million and months of efforts on more than 10,500 riparian acres.

Forever Our Rivers funding will support treatments on 15 river miles of Oak Creek. “There is very limited water—and every drop is important,” said Tracy Stephens, program director for Friends of the Verde River. “There is no room for noxious plants.”

“Removal of Giant Reed” – Friends of the Verde River

Collaboration Creates Big Win for Rivers

Photo by Alex Cogbill @local_color_studio_gallery

River enthusiasts across Colorado celebrated National River’s month with an “Outstanding Waters” protection for the headwaters of Taylor River and lower Soap Creek, which feeds into Blue Mesa Reservoir.  

The designation was awarded by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in June, following a rigorous three-year process. The Southwest Colorado Outstanding Waters Coalition put forth the proposal, in collaboration with local, state and national water conservationists.  

An impressive total of 520 river miles in the Gunnison, Upper Dolores, San Juan, San Miguel and Animas watersheds were permanently protected.

The Outstanding Waters award is focused on water quality. Among other criteria, water must be of “exceptional recreational or ecological significance”. While downstream users benefit from the high-quality water, the designation does not affect their water rights.    

More information can be found in this article published by the Gunnison Country Times.

Carlson Vineyards and DeYoung Studios Team Up for Rivers

Garrett and Cailin Portra own Carlson Vineyards, a winery perched on the banks of the mighty Colorado River in Palisade, CO. They use river delivered water to make delicious and distinctive wines, so they’re working to make sure the Colorado River stays healthy for their business, family and community. How? By doing what they love, making wine. They’ve crafted a delightful red and white to raise funds for nonprofits working on clean water and healthy rivers.

Since, they know that a bottle of wine is not complete without a good pairing, they partnered with Derek DeYoung to design the label. Derek is a world famous artist and prolific fly fisherman. His arthouse, DeYoung Studios, works with organizations across the country to support healthy rivers and promote fly fishing. DeYoung lent designs from his ‘Cubist Cutthroat’ series to create two keepsake worthy labels that compliment the custom wine blends. 

When you purchase these wines, you are supporting healthy rivers. Proceeds go straight to our grants program, funding organizations working to improve river health across the Southwest. In 2020, this partnership helped us grant nearly $25,000 to some of the hardest working nonprofits in the Colorado River Basin. 

We’re excited to continue this partnership with Carlson Vineyards and DeYoung Studios in 2021 with a new wine vintage. Proceeds will improve access to healthy rivers for  communities of color and underserved communities in the Southwest. We amplify the impact of this philanthropic  wine pairing by matching it with funds from other business partners that believe Our Rivers are for all.

Join the movement! Buy some wine. Carlson Vineyards sells the Forever Our Rivers Red and White  wines at their winery in Palisade and their tasting room in Grand Junction. You can also order them online. Prints of the DeYoung art are also available for purchase. Follow Carlson Vineyards, DeYoung Studios and Forever Our Rivers on Instagram and Facebook.

Save Rivers with SOL

Paddlers and other river recreationalists are often the first to experience the threats rivers face like trash and plastic pileups, poor water quality and river access challenges. That’s why SOL Paddle Boards was an early champion of the healthy rivers movement, joining forces with Forever Our Rivers in late 2019. 

SOL designs their high quality paddle boards in Telluride, Colorado at the headwaters of the stunning San Miguel River. The San Miguel flows into the Dolores and then on to the Colorado. All three are rivers we’re working to protect and restore.

SOL’s owner, Johnny Lombino, is a talented and passionate paddler. He brings ingenuity and enthusiasm to the movement to connect people to healthy rivers and waterways. Johnny wants to make access easier, which is why SOL builds and sells adaptive paddle boards and gives a portion of his profits to our grant program.

“We got involved with Forever Our Rivers because their river stewardship, grants and partnerships in the west are great for river communities,” says Lambino. “Rivers are ours to take care of and as a proud supporter of Forever Our Rivers, we want to increase awareness of the issues and care for the rivers around us.” 

This year, funds from SOL will help improve access to healthy rivers among communities of color and underserved communities, like people with disabilities, women, and lower income neighborhoods. We’re growing Jonny’s contributions by matching it with those from other companies that believe Our Rivers are for all. 

Join the movement. Buy a SOL paddle board or inner tube. Follow SOL Paddle Boards and Forever Our Rivers on Instagram and Facebook. And tag us in your river pics #paddlewithsol #solpaddleboards #ourrivers #foreverourrivers #weareforrivers

Southwest Foundation Grants over $25,000 for River Health

by Joe Neuhof

Forever Our Rivers Foundation (FOR) awarded $25,000 in grants this Friday to organizations connecting communities to their rivers. This grant cycle focused on improving river health in the southwest through projects ranging from stream habitat improvement and maintenance to engaging youth in education and providing public access to waterways.

The ten projects funded are largely run by organizations based in Colorado but include regional efforts from organizations such as Brown Folks Fishing and Casting for Recovery. “Our foundation is committed to engaging communities to enjoy, conserve and protect our rivers,” says Forever Our Rivers Executive Director Joe Neuhof. “We have a growing network of River Health Partners, centered in Colorado and working out into the West and eventually the nation.

Our goal is to raise over 5 million dollars over the next 5 years by helping our Corporate

Partners and their customers support clean water and healthy rivers. That money will fund boots‐on-the-ground nonprofits, which are key to getting rivers healthy and keeping them that way.”

Forever Our Rivers’ funding program is one-of‐a-kind, bringing businesses and nonprofits together to help make rivers and communities healthier. With ongoing support from the Walton Family Foundation, dozens of corporate partners, and a network of over 25 nonprofits, the foundation is growing quickly and earning some high-profile praise.

“We are proud to support and partner with the Forever Our Rivers Foundation in developing a sustainable river funding model,” says Peter Skidmore with Walton Family Foundation. “The Forever Our Rivers Model is the best bet to provide reliable and sustainable funding, as public and philanthropic sources often do not meet long‐term needs to protect and restore healthy rivers.”

Organizations funded include: Brown Folks Fishing, Casting for Recovery, Colorado West Land Trust, Four Corners Water Center, Friends of Youth & Nature, Institute for Environmental Solutions, Purgatoire Watershed Partnership, Roaring Fork Conservancy, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and River Science.

Brewers Protecting Our Rivers

by Tim Carlson

Forever Our Rivers Foundation works with companies to support organizations and communities working to enhance river health. One of these companies, PrairieFood, has developed an innovative technology that treats feedlot wastes for use by farmers to improve soil health and agricultural productivity while reducing nutrient loads in waterways. They asked us an interesting question: How are all the closed restaurants, bars, and brew-pubs going to dispose of all of the keg beer that goes bad during Covid-19 closures? Canned or bottled beer normally has a shelf life of several months, and a lot of it is standing by in breweries, distributors, and your favorite local haunts.

Prohibition officers pouring beer into the streets and sewers of New York City, 1920

Historically, excess beer, milk, or other food waste was often dumped directly into rivers. Such practices are really bad for rivers and are now illegal. Beer can decimate water quality. The bacteria that grow to decompose, i.e. feed on, the beer demands so much oxygen that they use it all up, leading to fish kills. It’s hard to believe, but beer needs around 250 times more oxygen to decompose than raw untreated municipal wastewater, what some call sewage. 

In normal times, restaurants and breweries know what to do with excess beer. They work with the local wastewater treatment facility and state agencies to decide on how to dispose of it. It may be to stage incremental disposal for larger volumes to prevent overloading treatment centers or to send it to a specialized disposal facility. In some states, beer can be sprayed directly onto agricultural land, used as an amendment for composting facilities, or, more recently, used to make hand sanitizer. 

For these less-than-normal times, the Brewers Association created a great resource for breweries, restaurants, bars, and distributors in an updated version of their Best Practices for Responsible Disposal of Beer

Since milk is just as hard on rives as beer is, there are best practices for dairy farms too. Help us out, buy keg beer from your favorite local breweries in growlers when possible.