How wildfires like the Woodbury Fire affect Greater Phoenix’s water supply

Photo showing damage from the Woodbury Fire
The aftermath of the Woodbury Fire in the Superstition Wilderness

Wildfires have been in the news a lot lately. The Woodbury Fire, for example, is the fifth-largest fire in Arizona’s history. It burned 123,875 acres between June 8 and July 16, 2019. Luckily, no one was hurt in the Woodbury Fire and no buildings burned before the fire was contained. However, there is still damage to consider.

Wildfires such as the Woodbury Fire cause significant damage to our native landscape. Sonoran Desert plants such as saguaro cactuses and paloverde trees get destroyed. Wildlife gets displaced. Our watershed gets threatened.

Photo showing damage from the Woodbury Fire
Scorched terrain in the Superstition Wilderness after the Woodbury Fire

Where your water comes from

To understand how wildfires like the Woodbury Fire threaten Arizona’s water supply, it’s important to consider where our water comes from.

Before water emerges from your tap, it travels more than 150 miles through mountain and desert terrain. It starts as snow in the forests of northern Arizona. The runoff from rain and snow that fall on those forests flows downstream, filling reservoirs on the Salt and Verde rivers before moving into canals and eventually to homes and businesses.

Learn more about where your water comes from.

Fire’s impact on our water

The health of the forest affects the quality and sustainability of our shared water supply. When forests are healthy, they protect winter snowpack, preventing it from melting too fast. They also filter runoff so that water flowing into reservoirs is clean and relatively free of sediment.

Scorched forests do the opposite, exposing snow to excessive sunlight, which causes it to melt more quickly. Runoff from fire-scarred areas drains into SRP’s reservoirs and brings with it ash and debris. Likewise, as monsoon storms roll in, torrential rains wash ash and charred plant remnants into the river. This material settles at the base of the dams, reducing reservoir capacity and affecting water quality.

Photo showing damage from the Woodbury Fire
Charred desert in the Superstition Wilderness after the Woodbury Fire

Since 2002, more than 2.5 million acres in or around SRP’s watershed has been burned by wildfires, including megafires such as the Rodeo-Chediski and Wallow fires. Damage to the watershed from the Woodbury Fire, specifically, will be assessed in the coming months. 

What SRP is doing (and how you can help)

Arizona’s forests are unhealthy and overgrown, and without action, catastrophic fires are almost a certainty — putting the state’s physical beauty, economic vitality and sustainability of water supplies at risk. We’re working to improve the health of these forests by planting trees in areas devastated by fire, partnering to thin areas that are overgrown, and convening groups of scientists, government leaders and researchers to better understand how to keep our forested landscapes thriving.

If you’re an SRP customer, you can help by joining SRP Trees for Change. For as little as $3 a month, you can help revitalize our forests, prevent wildfires and protect the water you drink. SRP uses 100% of customer contributions for forest projects and matches every dollar up to $200,000 per year.

Join Trees for Change.

Photo showing damage from the Woodbury Fire
Damage from the Woodbury Fire
Nicole Denton

Nicole Denton

Nicole is on SRP's integrated marketing communications team, specializing in digital strategy. She has called Arizona home since 2013 and currently resides in Mesa with her husband, Michael, and their three rescued pets. She's a University of Tennessee grad and loves college football. When she's not working or cheering on the Vols, she enjoys experimenting with fashion and home decor.

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