The Phoenix City Council has approved a three-year partnership with the National Forest Foundation (NFF) to help protect Phoenix’s water supply. The NFF’s work will consist of watershed improvement projects on National Forest lands in northern Arizona.
Through the partnership, the City of Phoenix will invest $200,000 per year in the Northern Arizona Forest Fund, a program developed by the NFF and Salt River Project (SRP) that is designed to improve forest health and water quality in the Salt and Verde River watersheds.
The National Forests in northern Arizona provide most of the water to the Salt and Verde Rivers, which are vital surface water supplies to downstream users in the greater Phoenix metropolitan areas. Most of Arizona’s surface water resources are sustained by high-elevation forested watersheds that capture rain and snow and then carry surface water downstream. Past forest management practices have created conditions that challenge the health of Arizona’s forests and the sustainability and quality of Arizona’s water supplies.
Developed in partnership with SRP, the NFF’s Northern Arizona Forest Fund works with local governments, businesses and Arizona residents that want to invest in the lands and watersheds they depend on. The NFF then partners with the U.S. Forest Service, local nonprofits, and private contractors to implement projects that reduce wildfire risk, improve streams and wetlands, enhance wildlife habitat, restore native plants, and limit erosion and sediment into Arizona streams, rivers, and reservoirs.
“It is critical, particularly in the midst of a long drought, that we restore our forests and protect watersheds from catastrophic fire,” said U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). “This partnership between the City of Phoenix, SRP and the National Forest Foundation, is just the type of collaboration that will safeguard the forests and our water supply.”
“In an era of climate change and continued drought, the City of Phoenix must take direct steps to protect the lifeblood of our economy – our water supply,” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. “This partnership will do exactly that. We must protect and preserve the rivers and watersheds that our City relies upon for continued economic prosperity.”
The NFF and SRP launched the Northern Arizona Forest Fund in 2014 with the goals of connecting Phoenix area residents and business with the forests and watersheds where their surface water supplies are born, and spurring investment in the health of those watersheds.
“The water from the watersheds that fill the reservoirs in SRP’s water system starts as snow in the forests of northern Arizona,” said General Manager Mark Bonsall, SRP’s chief executive officer. “Stewardship of these watersheds is a fundamental principle for SRP. That’s why we are working with our partners and customers to address important forest health issues. We are very pleased that the City of Phoenix has decided to be the first municipality to partner with us and the NFF in this important effort. Phoenix’s leadership in supporting restoration of our watersheds demonstrates a real commitment to the long-term vitality of the Valley.”
“Looking at the detrimental effects and costs that unhealthy forests and wildfire can have on water quality, this partnership was an easy decision,” said Councilman Bill Gates. Following the 2002 Colorado Hayman Fire, Denver Water has spent over $45 million reducing post-fire erosion into streams and dredging sediment from reservoirs. “This is a sensible, relatively low-cost approach for helping ensure reliable water supplies for our citizens,” said Councilwoman Thelda Williams. “I applaud our Water Services Department for helping develop this important partnership.”
Municipal investments in watershed health are becoming more common across the West. Cities like Denver, Santa Fe, and Flagstaff have formed partnerships to support forest health work in their watersheds. “The City of Phoenix has demonstrated its foresight and commitment to sustainability by joining with us on the Northern Arizona Forest Fund,” said Bill Possiel, NFF President. “Although other Western cities are investing in watershed health projects, most are located in close proximity to their forested watersheds. With this partnership, the City of Phoenix is truly setting an example for other municipalities that are more remote from, but still dependent on, water supplies that originate on National Forest lands.”
Implementation of the Northern Arizona Forest Fund’s first two projects is already underway. One project is designed to reduce wildfire risk and protect endangered species habitat near the Happy Jack area on the Coconino National Forest. The other project will reduce erosion and sedimentation into Oak Creek by improving drainage from forest roads on the Coconino National Forest near Sedona.
In 2016, the Northern Arizona Forest Fund will implement six high priority projects on all five National Forests in northern Arizona – the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Kaibab, Prescott, and Tonto National Forests.
The City’s strategic role and the overall success of the Northern Arizona Forest Fund will be a key topic at the third annual conference on forest and watershed health, “Finding Solutions: Healthy Forests, Vibrant Economy,” scheduled for Oct. 7-8 at the Doubletree Resort by Hilton in Scottsdale.
For more information on the Northern Arizona Forest Fund, contact Marcus Selig, NFF’s Southern Rockies Regional Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://www.nationalforests.org/who-we-are/regional-offices/southernrockies/azforestfund or http://www.srpnet.com/water/forest/.