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 National Forest Foundation, 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.

SRP is the largest corporate partner for the National Forest Foundation

Wes Swaffar, Director,  Reforestation and Partnerships for the National Forest Foundation is pictured among the forest
Wes Swaffar, Director, Reforestation and Partnerships for the National Forest Foundation

“SRP has been a leader in supporting forest restoration efforts in Northern Arizona,” said Wes Swaffar, Director, Reforestation and Partnerships for the National Forest Foundation. “As the largest single supporter of our tree planting efforts, SRP has supported the planting of two million trees across Northern Arizona forests. We’re grateful to have this support in helping to restore these special places.”

Wes Swaffar, Director, Reforestation and Partnerships for the National Forest Foundation

At SRP, this incredible work would not have been possible without the support of our customers, who are the main contributors to the Trees for Change program since it’s beginning in 2010. 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

Partnerships are key to keeping forests healthy

These projects combine the power of SRP, government, communities and businesses to fund research and thinning at other high priority areas.

Keeping customers up to date on the projects completed and underway, is another priority of the Trees for Change program. We recently launched the SRP forest restoration timeline to help customers and communities visualize the massive scope of work completed over the years.

Spencer Plumb pictured in a forest
Spencer Plumb, Arizona Program Manager, National Forest Foundation

“High severity fires and the post-fire flooding that follow are a risk to SRP’s water supplies and many communities in Arizona. As federal budgets continue to shrink, and the scale and severity of wildfires increase, support from SRP and other partners is more important than ever.

Spencer Plumb, Arizona Program Manager, National Forest Foundation (NFF)

Working for Arizona’s forests

Rebecca Davidson pictured in a forest.
Rebecca Davidson, Director, Southern Rockies Field Program for the National Forest Foundation

“Thanks to SRP and other key partners, the National Forest Foundation has improved the health of our forests and watersheds by reducing severe fire and flood risk on over 13,000 acres of National Forest lands in the last four years through the Northern Arizona Forest Fund. The Trees For Change program has allowed the NFF to plant over two million trees on lands in northern Arizona already devastated by wildfire and insect outbreak. This work couldn’t have been completed without SRP’s support, and it does so much to protect homes, businesses and local communities, and it improves the long-term health and sustainability of our forests and water supplies.”

Rebecca Davidson, Director, Southern Rockies Field Program for the National Forest Foundation

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.

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.

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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