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…the future of the Oak Creek Watershed

August 27, 2013

The Oak Creek Watershed is part of the Verde River Watershed and has an area of approximately 300,000 acres where all the water that is under it, or drains off it, goes into Oak Creek.  Oak Creek is the major tributary of the Verde River and meanders for about 50 miles from its headwaters at the top of Oak Creek Canyon to the confluence with the Verde at Cornville and Cottonwood, Arizona.

There are over 2100 watersheds across the country and not all are blessed with a management group to protect watershed integrity.  The Oak Creek Watershed Council (OCWC) originated 20 years ago under a different name and more modified goals, and formalized its structure as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2003.  It now has 200 members at active, contributing and stakeholder levels and has developed the reputation for being a “can-do” organization.  The common thread among OCWC membership is not only the passion shared for protecting the watershed environment, but the quest to educate all members of our watershed community that water controls our destiny and responsibility for its stewardship is shared by each of us.  

The OCWC membership includes citizen scientists, consultants, hydrologists, geologists, engineers, professionals with varied expertise and a volunteer force—Friends of Oak Creek.  The OCWC partners with all levels of government as well as other community organizations in its projects and activities including the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and the Sedona Community Foundation. A common goal is to support sustainable tourism and at the same time address its impacts, as well as tackle other water issues of the community from a short and long term perspective.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), sustainable tourism development requires the informed participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as strong political leadership to ensure wide participation and consensus building. Achieving sustainable tourism is a continuous process and it requires constant monitoring of impacts, introducing the necessary preventive and/or corrective measures whenever necessary.

Sustainability principles refer to the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability.

Arizona has been caught in the grips of a drought for over 20 years with no letup in sight, and the demand for water now surpasses the supply.  Publicity of this situation is critical, and the need for cooperation among all levels of government, community groups and citizens is urgent. We simply must all work together and support each other’s efforts.

Water quantity is not the only issue that the Oak Creek Watershed faces in the future.  The water quality of Oak Creek is stressed throughout each year mainly by the cumulative effects of concentrated recreation, wildlife and pet feces, septic leakage, stormwater runoff and sediment reservoirs.

Watershed groups like OCWC, along with limited staffing from government departments, are the only protection for local watercourse corridors becoming landfills of trash and polluted 24/7.  The environmental impact from 3 million visitors annually to Sedona and Oak Creek, as well as runoff from properties managed by 14,800 property owners, their pets and local wildlife, has placed enormous pressure on its ecosystem resulting in a perpetual state of bacteria concentrations called Escherichia coli (E.coli) exceeding the Arizona Surface Water Quality Standard.

OCWC believes leading by example engages members of the community and encourages them to “own” part of the responsibility, too.  In other words, messages and protocols are part of our Community Outreach Program and are aimed at changing the behavior of residents and visitors in the way they approach outdoor ethics.  It is only a supporting role though, and actions that speak louder than words can be leveraged to reap a much higher return in positive results. Walking the walk is more important than talking the talk.

Couple the surface water issues with a diminishing supply of the groundwater (below surface) indicates a critical need for better planning and cooperation among all stakeholders in the Oak Creek Watershed community.

We invite residents of the watershed to join our volunteer group, Friends of Oak Creek, and help preserve its integrity as well as maintain a standard of excellence in watershed stewardship.  A few hours a month collectively can add up to reducing E.coli in several recreational areas or helping to educate others to recreate responsibly.

To learn more about opportunities to support a clean and beautiful Oak Creek, visit or call 928-554-5460.  If you are interested in volunteering a few hours of your time please contact Kathy Dunham, Managing Director of Friends of Oak Creek at 928-274-6227 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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