By Stephanie Funk
Water has been a source of news lately, from the discovery of water on Mars to the exacerbated droughts in California. Concern about water is nothing new to us in our desert state of Arizona, but not everyone knows to be concerned about the one thing that directly impacts our water quality: our forests. Last week, Salt River Project (SRP) hosted a conference called “Finding Solutions: Healthy Forests, Vibrant Economies” to draw attention to the issues, highlight the work already done, and outline the work ahead.
The Ponderosa Pine forests of Northern Arizona are overgrown and dangerously susceptible to large-scale forest fires. We know too well that forest fires threaten homes, businesses and lives; what is less well-known is that after a fire, the run-off of turbid water, loaded with ashes, sediment and toxins, ends up in our watersheds. The watersheds lead into our water treatment plants, and eventually, our homes and businesses. The costs of poor forest heath are as far-reaching as they are devastating.
The “Healthy Forests, Vibrant Economies” conference featured speakers from across levels of state government, education and industries as well as from SRP and the U.S. Forest Service. If the representation didn’t already make it clear, each speaker emphasized the importance of collaboration across every sector to find and implement solutions. The highlight announcement of the conference was that the cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale have voted unanimously to invest over $200,000 a year to the Northern Arizona Forest Fund, a joint project of SRP and the National Forest Foundation that funds high priority restoration projects on the Salt and Verde River watersheds and National Forests.
Former newscaster for Channel 12 Lin Sue Cooney gave the keynote address and introduced an SRP-produced short documentary called “The Collaborative Road To Restoring Arizona’s Forests,” which she also appeared in and narrated. The video spotlighted the efforts of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI), which works to remove the biomass by thinning forests and reducing fuel for forest fires.
In her address, Cooney summed up the matter simply: “Fire is personal.” The losses incurred by fires are felt personally, and that includes the impact on our water. Healthy Arizona forests, she explained, mean healthy Arizona watersheds, which in turn means a healthy, protected Arizona quality of life.
Watch an abridged version of SRP’s documentary here: