SRP’s Trees for Change and Arizona’s Water

How Arizona forests impact SRP water delivery in the Valley

It’s hard to remember a summer without a catastrophic wildfire. After a century of fire suppression, many forests are now overgrown. In an unhealthy forest, it’s common to find smaller trees crowding larger trees. When fire hits these forests, the shorter trees cause the flames to rise higher instead of burning low to the ground, bringing the fire to the tops of the trees. When fire reaches the treetops, or crown, it’s called a crown fire. Crown fires burn hotter and faster with devastating effects. 

A low-intensity surface fire burns small-diameter trees and forest underbrush in the Upper Beaver Creek Project area. Photo courtesy of the National Forest Foundation
A low-intensity surface fire burns small-diameter trees and forest underbrush in the Upper Beaver Creek Project area. Photo courtesy of the National Forest Foundation

Fire and Water

Fire not only affects the daily life and economies of our neighboring forest communities, but it also impacts water quality. In Arizona, we depend on winter snow runoff to flow through our northeastern mountains, valleys, rivers and streams — known as a watershed — into our reservoirs. When fire scorches the earth, water runs across the soil faster. This brings more dirt, sediment and other debris into our reservoirs, causing water quality and supply issues for communities across the state.

Arizona’s forests are no stranger to fire. In 2018, Arizona had more than 1,900 fires, burning more than 163,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center’s Southwest Coordination Center.

How SRP helps Arizona’s forests

  • SRP Trees for Change
    SRP Trees for Change Reforestation Project in the Schultz Pass area just north of Flagstaff.
Ponderosa pines are common in Arizona forests within SRP’s watershed.
Ponderosa pines are common in Arizona forests within SRP’s watershed.

SRP supports healthy forests in two ways: planting after a fire and preventing fires through forest restoration. With the SRP Trees for Change program, SRP has led the way in reclaiming land scarred by fire, making it easy for customers to directly help our forests now and in the future. Collaborating with customers and forest agencies, SRP has planted more than 1.9 million trees over 7,000 acres of forestland since 2010.

On the forest restoration side, SRP is working closely with the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the State of Arizona to re-establish a forest products industry that will progressively restore Arizona’s forests to a more natural condition.  Hundreds of thousands of forested acres are overgrown, at high risk of experiencing catastrophic wildfire, and are in need of harvesting and restoration.  Through restoration together we will be protecting people, communities and our watersheds.  This project is anticipated to be the nation’s largest undertaking between several agencies to restore US forest service lands, and will be the first in the nation to utilize new longer term contracting authority.  Other forest projects SRP is actively involved in include:  

  1. The Nature Conservancy and the Future Forests Fund
  2. The Four Forest Restoration Initiative Collaborative
  3. Cragin Watershed Protection Project Partnership

These projects combine the power of SRP, government, communities and businesses to fund research and thinning at other high priority areas. To learn more about projects completed and underway, view the forest restoration timeline.

SRP water travels approximately 150 miles from the watershed to customers in the Valley.
SRP water travels approximately 150 miles from the watershed to customers in the Valley.

Working for Arizona’s forests

It’s no wonder SRP has been investing in forest health for the last decade. As the Valley’s largest supplier of water, SRP operates seven dams and reservoirs across the 8.3 million-acre Salt and Verde river watersheds. These reservoirs play a major part in our lives, storing water for when the Valley needs it most while generating sustainable, renewable hydropower to thousands of homes. Don’t forget the recreational benefits we all can enjoy across Arizona’s forests and lakes.

Learn more about SRP’s plans for our environment, water and air quality, as well as our renewable energy efforts and long-term sustainability plans. You can also sign up to support SRP Trees for Change, and help make a difference in our forests and water.


Tiffany Bolton

Tiffany Bolton

Tiffany is a lifelong learner, water nerd and mom. An Arizona transplant, she loves calling the Valley home, even though she kills a garden full of plants each year. When not writing about SRP, she enjoys reading one book each week and driving her minivan.

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