Agua Fria River Watershed – Arizona

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Agua Fria River Watershed – ArizonaRapid Watershed AssessmentJune 2007Prepared by:USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service – ArizonaUniversity of Arizona, Water Resources Research CenterIn cooperation with:Arizona Association of Conservation DistrictsArizona Department of AgricultureArizona Department of Environmental QualityArizona Department of Water ResourcesArizona Game & Fish DepartmentArizona State Land DepartmentUSDA Forest ServiceUSDI Bureau of Land Management

Released by:Sharon MegdalDirectorUniversity of ArizonaWater Resources Research CenterDavid McKayState ConservationistU.S. Department of AgricultureNatural Resources Conservation ServiceAdditional Principal Investigators:Dino DeSimone – Natural Resources Conservation Service, Phoenix, ArizonaKeith Larson – Natural Resources Conservation Service, Phoenix, ArizonaKristine Uhlman – Water Resources Research Center, University of ArizonaD. Phil Guertin – School of Natural Resources, University of ArizonaDeborah Young – Associate Director, Cooperative Extension, University of ArizonaThe United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities onthe basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, andmarital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who requirealternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contactUSDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326W, Whitten Building,14th and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C., 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice or TDD).USDA is an equal employment opportunity provider and employer.

Agua Fria River – 150701028-Digit Hydrologic UnitRapid Watershed AssessmentSection 1: IntroductionOverview of Rapid WatershedAssessmentsA Rapid Watershed Assessment (RWA)is a concise report containinginformation on natural resourceconditions and concerns within adesignated watershed. The "rapid" partrefers to a relatively short time period todevelop the report as compared to amore comprehensive watershedplanning effort. The “assessment” partrefers to a report containing maps,tables and other information sufficient togive an overview of the watershed andfor use as a building block for futureplanning. RWAs look at physical andsocioeconomic characteristics andtrends, as well as current and futureconservation work.The assessments involve the collectionof readily available quantitative andqualitative information to develop awatershed profile, and sufficient analysisof that information to generate anappraisal of the conservation needs ofthe watershed. These assessments areconducted by conservation planners,using Geographic Information Systemtechnology, assessing current levels ofresource management, identifyingpriority resource concerns, and makingestimates of future conservation work.Conservation Districts and other localleaders, along with public landmanagement agencies, are involved inthe assessment process.Agua Fria WatershedSection 1 - IntroductionAn RWA can be used as acommunication tool between the NaturalResources Conservation Service(NRCS) and partners for describing andprioritizing conservation work in selectedwatersheds. RWAs provide initialestimates of conservation investmentsneeded to address the identifiedresource concerns in the watershed.RWAs serve as a platform forconservation program delivery, provideuseful information for development ofNRCS and Conservation Districtbusiness plans, and lay a foundation forfuture watershed planning.General Description of the Agua FriaRiver WatershedThe Agua Fria River Watershed islocated in the central portion of the stateof Arizona, southeast of the city ofPrescott, and north of Phoenix. (Figure1-1). The watershed can be defined asthe area drained by the Agua Fria Riverto the confluence with the Gila Riverwest of the Phoenix metropolitan areanear Avondale. The watershedcomprises 1.79 million acres (2,785square miles), and is located 51% inYavapai County and 49% in MaricopaCounty. Thirty-eight percent of the landis managed by BLM, 30% is State TrustLand, 16% is private land, 9% ismanaged by the Forest Service, 5% isUSFS & BLM wilderness areas, and 3%is state park land.The watershed includes the Cities ofAvondale, Carefree, Cave CreekGlendale, Peoria, and Prescott Valley.There are two U.S. Department ofAgriculture (USDA) Service Centerslocated in Avondale and Prescott Valley.Conservation assistance is providedthrough seven Natural ResourceRapid Watershed Assessmentpage 1-1

Conservation Districts: Chino Winds,Verde, Tonto, East Maricopa, Agua FriaNew River, Wickenberg, and BuckeyeValley (Figure 1-1).The area is mostly rangeland with amixture of cropland and urbandevelopment. The watershed’s onelarge lake, Lake Pleasant, is used forwater storage and recreation.Rangeland and most forestlands aregrazed year around by cattle, except atlower elevations where grazing isseasonal with stocker cattle in yearswith good winter-spring rainfall.Irrigation land is used for cotton, alfalfa,barley, and other small grains. Wherewater supply is available, lettuce,carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, melons,among other market vegetables, andcitrus are grown. Land available forcultivation is being encroached upon byrapid urbanization in the largercommunities.Resource concerns in the watershedinclude soil erosion, excessive runoff(causing flooding or ponding), aquiferoverdraft, contaminants in surface andground water, air quality, decliningthreatened plant & animal species,invasive plants, and fish & wildlifehabitat degeneration.Agua Fria WatershedSection 1 - IntroductionRapid Watershed Assessmentpage 1-2

Section 2: Physical DescriptionThe Agua Fria River Watershed inArizona is defined as the area drainedby the Agua Fria River to the confluencewith the Gila River west of the Phoenixmetropolitan area near Avondale. Thewatershed is located in the central partof the state, from the western part ofPhoenix, north to the Prescott area. 1507010205 (Agua Fria RiverLake Pleasant), 1507010206(Cave Creek-AZ Canal DiversionChannel), 1507010207 (TrilbyWash-Trilby Wash Basin); 1507010208 (New River); and, 1505010209 (Agua Fria Riverbelow Lake Pleasant, Figure 1-2).Watershed SizeGeologyThe Agua Fria River Watershed coversapproximately 2,784 square miles,representing about 2.4% of the state ofArizona. The watershed has amaximum approximate width of 46 mileseast-west, and a maximum length of 90miles north-south.The Agua Fria River Watershed ischaracterized by a narrow, ruggedvalley rising up from the desert floor ofthe Phoenix Basin, steadily gaining inelevation as the watershed extends upand over a lava plateau and to the edgeof the southern boundary of the VerdeRiver Watershed. The geology of thewatershed is complex, varying widely inage, rock-type, and structure (Figure 21).The Agua Fria River Watershed wasdelineated by the U.S. GeologicalSurvey and has been subdivided by theNRCS into smaller watersheds ordrainage areas. Each drainage areahas a unique hydrologic unit code(HUC) number and a name based onthe primary surface water feature withinthe HUC. These drainage areas can befurther subdivided into even smallerwatersheds as needed. The Agua Friahas an 8-digit HUC of 15070102 andcontains the following 10-digit HUCs: 1507010201 (Ash Creek andSycamore Creek); 1507010202 (Big Bug CreekAgua Fria River); 1507010203 (Black CanyonCreek); 1507010204 (Bishop Creek);Agua Fria WatershedSection 2 - Physical DescriptionThe Agua Fria Valley is formed byerosion of the Bradshaw Mountains.Subsidence along this zone eventuallycaused both the Verde River to thenorth and west, and the Agua Fria, tostop flowing, forming a series of ancientlakes and deposition of lake sediments.Damming of the Agua Fria also occurreddue to multiple lava flows whichoriginated from a source to thenortheast. The mountains and ridgesthat border the watershed arecomposed of metamorphic rocks (rocksthat undergo change due to extremeheat or pressure) which form mountainsin the southern portion of the watershed;mesas to the east; and the BradshawMountains to the west. The centralportion of the valley consists of streamdeposits of sand, silt and gravel withRapid Watershed Assessmentpage 2-1

stream-rounded pebbles and lava flows,commonly lying on soil zones baked bythe heat of the flowing lava.The rocks consist primarily of granitethat weathers to rounded boulders andknobs, and flaky, silvery rocks. Flatlying layers of whitish limestone,siltstone, and water-laid volcanic ashare found in lake sediments, and lavaflows cap the higher mesas. NearCordes Junction, loosely consolidatedstream and lake deposits are cappedwith volcanic rock, and a lava plateauforms the drainage divide betweenTurkey Creek (an Agua Fria tributary)and the Verde River Watershed to thewest (Chronic, 1983).Sunset Point Rest Area on InterstateRoute 17 looks down on Black Canyon,named for the dark metamorphic rocksthat give it its name. The BradshawMountains are walled with the samerock but also is composed of a largermass of granite.Detailed soils information for thewatershed is available from the NaturalResources Conservation Service(NRCS) and the U.S. Forest Service(USFS). The USFS maintainsTerrestrial Ecosystem Surveys onNational Forest Lands within thewatershed. Lands outside of NationalForests are included within the followingNRCS Soil Surveys: “Soil Survey ofYavapai County, AZ, Western Part”;“Soil Survey of the Black Hills-SedonaArea, AZ, Parts of Coconino andYavapai Counties”; “Soil Survey ofMaricopa County, AZ, Central Part”;“Soil Survey of Eastern Maricopa andNorthern Pinal Counties Area, AZ”; and“Soil Survey of Aguila-Carefree Area,AZ, Parts of Maricopa and PinalCounties, AZ.” Soils data and mapsfrom these Soil Surveys can beaccessed through the NRCS Web SoilSurvey website: the edge of the Mogollon Rim (theboundary of the Colorado PlateauHighlands), lava flows cascaded fromthe plateau surface, draining andforming poorly drained, nearly flat-lyingmesas in the eastern margin of theAgua Fria.Figure 2-1 shows the geology of theAgua Fria River Watershed,SoilsSoils within the Agua Fria RiverWatershed are diverse and formed asthe result of differences in climate,vegetation, geology, and physiography.Agua Fria WatershedSection 2 - Physical DescriptionRapid Watershed Assessmentpage 2-2

Common Resource AreasThe USDA, Natural ResourcesConservation Service (NRCS) defines aCommon Resource Area (CRA) as ageographical area where resourceconcerns, problems, or treatment needsare similar (NRCS 2006). It isconsidered a subdivision of an existingMajor Land Resource Area (MLRA).Landscape conditions, soil, climate,human considerations, and other naturalresource information are used todetermine the geographic boundaries ofa Common Resource Area.The Agua Fria River Watershed iscomprised of 6 Common ResourceAreas (Figure 2-2 and Table 2-1).Beginning at the lower end of thewatershed, CRA 40.3 “ColoradoSonoran Desert” occurs at elevationsranging from 300 to 1200 feet.Precipitation averages 3 to 7 inches peryear. Vegetation includes creosotebush,white bursage, brittlebush, Mormon tea,teddybear cholla, elephant tree, smoketree, ocotillo, and big galleta. The soilsin the area have a hyperthermic soiltemperature regime and a typic aridicsoil moisture regime. The dominant soilorders are Aridisols and Entisols. Deep,stratified, coarse to fine-textured soilsoccur on floodplains and alluvial fans.Deep, medium and moderately coarsetextured limy soils occur on fan terraces.CRA 40.2 “Middle Sonoran Desert”occurs at slightly higher elevations,ranging from 1200 to 2000 feet withprecipitation averaging 7 to 10 inchesper year. Vegetation includes saguaro,palo verde, creosotebush, trianglebursage, brittlebush, prickly pear, cholla,desert saltbush, wolfberry, bush muhly,Agua Fria WatershedSection 2 - Physical Descriptionthreeawns, and big galleta. The soils inthe area have a hyperthermic soiltemperature regime and a typic aridicsoil moisture regime. The dominant soilorders are Aridisols and Entisols. Deep,stratified, coarse to fine-textured soilsoccur on floodplains and alluvial fans.Deep, moderately fine and fine-texturedand gravelly, moderately fine-texturedsoils occur on fan terraces. Shallow to ahardpan, limy, gravelly, medium andmoderately coarse-textured soils occuron fan terraces. Shallow, very gravellyand cobbly, moderately coarse tomoderately fine-textured soils and rockoutcrop occur on hills and mountains.CRA 40.1 “Upper Sonoran Desert”occurs at elevations ranging from 2000to 3200 feet with precipitation averaging10 to 13 inches per year. Vegetationincludes saguaro, palo verde, mesquite,creosotebush, triangle bursage, pricklypear, cholla, wolfberry, bush muhly,threeawns, ocotillo, and globe mallow.The soils in the area have a thermic soiltemperature regime and a typic aridicsoil moisture regime. The dominant soilorders are Aridisols and Entisols.Shallow, cobbly and gravelly soils androck outcrop occur on hills andmountains. Deep, gravelly, medium tofine-textured soils occur on fan terraces.These three Common Resource Areas(40.3, 40.2 and 40.1) occur within theBasin and Range PhysiographicProvince which is characterized bynumerous mountain ranges risingabruptly from broad, plain-like valleysand basins. Igneous and metamorphicrock classes dominate the mountainranges and sediments filling the basinsrepresent combinations of fluvial,lacustrine, colluvial and alluvial deposits.Rapid Watershed Assessmentpage 2-3

Table 2-1: Agua Fria River Watershed Common Resource AreasCommonResource AreaArea (sq. Percent ofTypemi.)Watershed40.3 ColoradoSonoran Desert97.303.540.2 MiddleSonoran Desert935.8433.640.1 UpperSonoran Desert374.6413.538.1 LowerInterior Chaparral 1,299.0546.638.2 InteriorChaparral –Woodlands23.970.835.1 ColoradoPlateau MixedGrass Plains54.371.9Data Sources: GIS map layer “cra”. ArizonaLand Information System (ALRIS 2004). NaturalResource Conservation Service (NRCS 2006)Moving up the watershed, CRA 38.1“Lower Interior Chaparral” occurs atelevations ranging from 3000 to 4500feet. Precipitation averages 12 to 16inches per year. Vegetation includescanotia, one-seed juniper, mesquite,catclaw acacia, jojoba, turbinella oak,ratany, shrubby buckwheat, algerita,skunkbush, tobosa, vine mesquite,bottlebrush squirreltail, grama species,curly mesquite, desert needlegrass andNew Mexico feathergrass. The soils inthe area have a thermic soil temperatureregime and an ustic aridic moistureregime. The dominant soil orders areAridisols and Mollisols. Shallow, gravellyand cobbly, moderately coarse tomoderately fine-textured soils and rockoutcrop occur on hills and mountains.Shallow to deep, gravelly, cobbly andstony, fine-textured soils occur onbasaltic plains, mesas and hills. Deep,gravelly, medium to fine-textured soilsoccur on fan terraces.CRA 38.2 “Interior Chaparral –Woodlands” occurs at elevationsAgua Fria WatershedSection 2 - Physical Descriptionranging from 4000 to 5500 feet withprecipitation averaging 16 to 20 inchesper year. Vegetation includes turbinellaoak, hollyleaf buckthorn, desertbuckbrush, one-seed juniper, alligatorjuniper, pinyon, algerita, sugar sumac,prairie junegrass, blue grama, curlymesquite, bottlebrush squirreltail,muttongrass, cane beardgrass, plainslovegrass and bullgrass. The soils inthe area have a thermic to mesic soiltemperature regime and an aridic usticsoil moisture regime. The dominant soilorders are Alfisols and Mollisols.Moderately deep and deep, gravelly andcobbly, moderately coarse to finetextured soils occur on mountains.These two Common Resource Areas(38.1 and 38.2) occur within theTransition Zone Physiographic Provincewhich is characterized by canyons andstructural troughs or valleys. Igneous,metamorphic and sedimentary rockclasses occur on rough mountainousterrain in association with less extensivesediment filled valleys.At the upper end of the watershedoccurs CRA 35.1 “Colorado PlateauMixed Grass Plains” with eelevationsranging from 5100 to 6000 feet.Precipitation averages 10 to 14 inchesper year. Vegetation includes Stipaspecies, Indian ricegrass, galleta, andblue grama, fourwing saltbush, winterfat,and cliffrose. The soils in the area havea mesic soil temperature regime and anustic aridic soil moisture regime. Thedominant soil orders are Aridisols andEntisols. Deep, gravelly, moderately fineand fine-textured soils occur onfloodplains and valley slopes and plains.Shallow, gravelly, medium-textured anddeep, medium and moderately finetextured soils occur on plains and hills.Rapid Watershed Assessmentpage 2-4

CRA 35.1 occurs within the ColoradoPlateau Physiographic Province which ischaracterized by a sequence of flat togently dipping sedimentary rocks erodedinto plateaus, valleys and deepcanyons. Sedimentary rock classesdominate the plateau with volcanic fieldsoccurring for the most part near itsmargin.Slope ClassificationsSlope, as well as soil characteristics andtopography, are important whenassessing the vulnerability of awatershed to erosion. Approximately42.6% of the Agua Fria Watershed hasa slope greater than 15%, while 39.1%of the watershed has a slope less than5%. The Agua Fria River Watershedbelow Lake Pleasant watershed isrelatively flat, with only 11.6% of its areaover 15% slope, and 80.1% less than5% slope. The Black Canyon Creekand Agua Fria – Lake Pleasantwatersheds are relatively steep, with74.7% and 77.9% of the area greaterthan 15% slope, respectively (Table 2-2and Figure 2-3).Table 2-2: Agua Fria River WatershedSlope Classifications.WatershedAreaName(sq. mi.)Ash Creek andSycamoreCreek1507010201261Big Bug CreekAgua Fria River3241507010202Black CanyonCreek2441507010203Bishop Creek1507010204236Percent Slope0-5% 5-15% Agua Fria WatershedSection 2 - Physical DescriptionWatershedAreaName(sq. mi.)Agua Fria RiverLake Pleasant1507010205372Cave CreekArizona CanalDiversionChannel1507010206288Trilby WashTrilby WashBasin1507010207242New River1507010208353Agua Fria Riverbelow LakePleasant4641507010209Agua Fria RiverWatershed2,784Percent Slope0-5% 5-15% 80.18.311.639.118.442.6Data Sources: Derived from DEM, obtained fromU.S. Geological Survey, April 8, 2003, Lakes and Gaging StationsThe locations of active and inactivegaging stations, and their respectiveannual mean stream flow, are found inTable 2-3.1. Agua Fria River near RockSprings has the largest annual streamflow with 78.80 cfs. Skunk Creek nearPhoenix has the lowest annual streamflow with 1.48cfs. Table 2.3.2 lists majorlakes and reservoirs in the Agua FriaRiver Watershed, as well as theirwatershed position, surface area,elevation and dam name. Trilby WashBasin and Lake Pleasant are the largestsurface waters with areas of 2,068 and2,042 acres respectively. The nextlargest water body is Fain Lake whichcovers 1,015 acres. Table 2-3.3 lists themajor streams and their lengths.Stream lengths range from 167.6 milesRapid Watershed Assessmentpage 2-5

for Agua Fria to 29.0 miles for Big BugCreek (Figure 2-4).Riparian VegetationThe Arizona Game & Fish Departmenthas identified and mapped riparianvegetation associated with perennialwaters in response to the requirementsof the state Riparian Protection Program(July 1994). This map was used toidentify riparian areas in the Agua FriaWatershed (Figure 2-5).Seven of the ten types of riparian areasoccur within this watershed. Riparianareas encompass approximately 1,715acres (2.7 sq. mi.) or 0.04% of the entirewatershed. Mixed Broadleaf comprisesabout 1,025 acres (1.6 sq. mi., orAgua Fria WatershedSection 2 - Physical Description59.8%) of the riparian areas, and Strand(the

Agua Fria River Watershed – Arizona Rapid Watershed Assessment June 2007 Prepared by: USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service – Arizona University of Arizona, Water Resources Research Center In cooperation with: Arizona Association of Conservation Districts Arizona Department of Agriculture

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