In an effort to restore healthy forests and protect critical watersheds in Arizona, SRP, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Arizona Commerce Authority, and the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management released a major RFP to promote a sustainable industry that can provide large-scale forest restoration. This five-member partnership known as the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) is an innovative response to combating wildfires and ensuring water supply and infrastructure.
TWW commends SRP and the other four partners for addressing a critical issue with a new approach that aims to cut down bureaucracy and create a viable market that will drive forest stewardship.
The RFP calls for one or more large-scale, long-term stewardship contracts that will reduce forest fuel loads, improve forest health, and improve wildlife and plant diversity. The 4FRI area includes more than 2.4 million acres of which more than 1 million acres need mechanical thinning. The goal of 4FRI is to mechanically thin 50,000 acres per year. The health of these watersheds and prevention of catastrophic wildfire is critical to the long-term sustainability and reliability of SRP’s water supplies and infrastructure.
In a release, SRP highlighted the importance of the project and why they are involved:
“To understand why SRP is so involved, it's first important to understand why forest health matters to the greater Phoenix metropolitan area as a whole. Forests in northern and eastern Arizona are the lifeblood of SRP's water supply. The runoff from rain and snow that fall on those forests flows downstream, filling reservoirs on the Salt and Verde rivers. When those forests are healthy, they protect winter snow-pack, preventing it from melting too fast, and filter runoff so that water flowing into reservoirs is clean and relatively free of sediment. SRP’s watersheds are in five national forests with almost 60% of the land area within the Salt and Verde River watersheds and 100% of the East Clear Creek watershed being managed by USFS. SRP operates and maintains the federal reclamation project’s seven reservoirs and associated water works that provide a reliable and sustainable water supply to municipal, agricultural and industrial customers in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area.
Unhealthy and overgrown forests on National Forest System lands are fuel for large catastrophic wildfires that affect the health of the Salt, Verde and East Clear Creek watersheds. Massive wildfires make average precipitation events extremely destructive; accelerating flood flows and runoff, eroding soils, depositing sediment into water storage reservoirs, and ultimately causing hundreds of millions of dollars in increased treatment costs and reduced water storage capacity.”