Irrigation in the Verde Valley

Agriculture and mining settled the Verde Valley in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Jerome was known as the “billion dollar” copper camp and was the 3rd largest city in Arizona having a population of 15,000 residents.

The Verde Valley is fortunate to have five (5) perennial rivers/creeks located in the Valley. 
They are listed as follows:

Verde River:                
Runs through the entire length of the Verde Valley from northwest to southeast. It is the main surface water tributary in the Valley, not only in the Verde Valley but also in north central Arizona. The Verde is spring fed and starts to flow out of the ground at Stillman Lake east of Paulden. Stillman Lake is located at the confluence of the Verde River and Granite Creek. The total length of the river is approximately 160 miles.               

Sycamore Creek:       
Located at the north end of the Verde Valley and it runs into the Verde River, above Clarkdale.              

Oak Creek:                   
Located in the central part of the Verde Valley and runs into the Verde River between Cottonwood and Middle Verde.            

Beaver Creek:             
Located at the southeastern end of the Valley and runs into the Verde River at Camp Verde.

Clear Creek:              
Located at the southeastern end of the Verde Valley and runs into the Verde River southeast of Camp Verde.

Runoff from precipitation (storm) events sometimes causes these streams to rise rapidly, resulting in the loss of irrigation Diversion Dams and fields of farms and ranches located along these streams. In February, 1993 at the USGS gauge above Clarkdale, the Verde River was running at 53,200 CFS (record flow); and at the USGS gauge in Camp Verde, the Verde River was running at 119,000 CFS (record flow). All of the Diversion Dams were damaged and major repairs had to be made.

The first white settlers settled to farm in the Verde Valley around 1865. As more settlers moved to the Valley, Ft. Lincoln (today known as Camp Verde) was built to protect the farmers and ranchers. Most irrigation ditches in the Verde Valley were built in the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century. There are over 30 ditch companies having ditch diversions on the above listed rivers/creeks. Water is diverted directly out of streams to service the water users. There are a few irrigation associations (companies) that pump water out of the river/creeks.

With the large population of people living in Jerome, and with the abundance of surface water in the Verde Valley; and with thousands of acres of fertile lands located along these tributaries, many farms and ranches were developed in the Valley to provide food and fiber to miners in Jerome.

Crops grown included corn, wheat, barley, oats, sudan, alfalfa, permanent pasture grasses, fruit trees, and row crops (vegetables). This is how farming and ranching evolved in the Verde Valley. Many farmers and ranchers hauled their food supplies in wagons pulled by teams of horses to sell to the people in Jerome.

In addition, there were apple orchards developed along Oak Creek in the Sedona and Upper Oak Creek Canyon areas.

Many ranches and dairies were located on these irrigated lands. There were thousands of head of beef cattle, and small flocks of sheep, chickens and turkeys raised on the farms and ranches from above Clarkdale to south of Camp Verde.

Specifically in the Bridgeport, Cottonwood and Clarkdale areas, there were five (5) dairies that provided milk for all of the people not only in the Verde Valley, but also for Flagstaff. 

The dairies were:
Clarkdale Dairy at Peck’s Lake
Jerome Diary at Cottonwood
Verde District Dairy at Cottonwood
Scott Dairy at Smelter City/Bridgeport
UVX Dairy at Bridgeport

The Jerome, Verde District, Scott and UVX dairies were all located on irrigated lands in the service area of the Cottonwood Ditch Association. They grew alfalfa hay and permanent pasture for their dairy cattle.

Much hay (alfalfa, oats, sudan) that was raised on the farms in the Cottonwood area was sold to ranchers as far away as Flagstaff, Tuba City and Winslow.

The towns of Cottonwood and Camp Verde greatly benefited from the farms and ranches that produced the food staples and fibers to feed the people in the Verde Valley.