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The Arizona Water Sentinels Program

Water Sentinels logoWho are the Arizona Water Sentinels? 

Water Sentinels are volunteers who do hands-on conservation work to protect Arizona’s rivers and streams. We’re part of the national Sierra Club Water Sentinels program whose mission is to protect, improve, and restore the nation’s waters.  Water Sentinels do this by fostering partnerships to promote citizen water quality monitoring, public education, and citizen action to protect local water bodies and their watersheds.  Currently, we have 70 Water Sentinels volunteers and many more who participate in periodic clean-ups, and monthly projects.

What do the Arizona Water Sentinels do?

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Figure 1. Water Sentinels at the
Rio Salado Restoration Area
Photo Credit: Sandy Bahr

Since December 2006, the Water Sentinels have been going to the Verde River every other month to conduct water quality monitoring.  Water Sentinels measure water quality parameters such as pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and total dissolved solids concentrations in the river. We collect water samples to determine concentrations of E. coli bacteria, arsenic, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and suspended sediment in the water.  Water Sentinels also measure the base flow of the upper Verde River.  We are collecting baseline data on water quality and quantity to assess water quality conditions and to determine whether changes are occurring in the Verde River over time.  We share Water Sentinels data with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality so it can be used for §305(b) water quality assessments required by the Clean Water Act.  These data help to inform decisions about better protecting this amazing river.

Water Sentinels organize stream clean-ups and we work to restore riparian areas.  For example, Water Sentinels are working in the Rio Salado Restoration Area near downtown Phoenix to remove buffelgrass, an invasive grass which poses a wildfire danger and crowds out native plants in the Salt River riparian corridor.  Every month, Water Sentinels gather at the restoration area to pick up trash and litter and to dig buffelgrass in the riparian area.

Where do Water Sentinels work in Arizona?

The Water Sentinels have been working primarily on the Verde River. The Verde River is one of the largest perennial streams in the Southwest, it has important riparian vegetation associated with it, provides key habitat for many species, including threatened and endangered species, offers a multitude of recreational opportunities, and it is important source of drinking water the Phoenix area. 

The Verde River, nominated by the Sierra Club and designated by American Rivers as one of the ten most endangered rivers in the country in 2006, faces significant threats. The river is severely threatened by excessive groundwater pumping to feed development and several pipeline projects proposed by the communities of Prescott, Prescott Valley, and Chino Valley, plus a myriad of water quality concerns including application of sludge to the land nearby.  Water Sentinels go to six sampling sites on the Verde River between its source springs near Paulden and Camp Verde, Arizona.  

The Water Sentinels program is expanding beyond the Verde River.  We’ve begun to work on other waterways in Arizona.  For example, we’re working in the Rio Salado Restoration Area along the Salt River near downtown Phoenix.  We’re recruiting volunteers in the Sedona area to protect Oak Creek and its watershed.  Finally, we’re organizing a Water Sentinels group in southeastern Arizona to volunteer for the San Pedro River.  

Why do Water Sentinels volunteer?

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Figure 2. Water Sentinels sampling
the Verde River at Beasley
Photo credit: Sandy Bahr

Water is life in the desert. Arizona’s remaining perennial rivers and streams are precious water resources that deserve protection.  Water Sentinels are citizen advocates who volunteer because they care deeply about a local stream; or they’ve seen too many Arizona rivers reduced to bone-dry washes through impoundments, diversions, and groundwater pumping; or they have witnessed their degradation by pollution and they want to do something about it. Water Sentinels volunteer their time to protect our remaining rivers and streams and take effective action to restore streams and riparian areas that have already been damaged.

How can I get involved?

If you are interested in clean water or hands-on conservation work to protect streams and watersheds, then the Water Sentinels program is for you! For more information about the Water Sentinels program, contact Sandy Bahr at 602-253-8633 or by e-mail at: sandy.bahr@sierraclub.org.

Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Chapter, 202 E. McDowell Rd, Suite 277, Phoenix, AZ 85004, (602) 253-8633

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