Salt River Watershed

Sponsors and Partners:

Tonto National Forest, Arizona Department of Game and Fish, National Forest Foundation, National Science Foundation, Intel, Boeing, Salt River Project, Arbor Day Foundation, Maricopa Community College, Inmate Nature Rehabilitation Program, Arizona State Forestry, Natural Lands Veterans Crew, Northern Arizona University, Arizona State University, Audobon, Volunteers, and K-12 Schools, Desert Botanical Garden

Project Duration: 2016 to Present

Project Overview

Salt River Watershed

The Land:

The Salt River and major tributaries that include Agua Fria River, Verde River, and the San Pedro River. These rivers are among the largest in Arizona and provide a large portion of the water to Arizona’s urban communities. The Salt River is our current major focus, with an 14-mile stretch of the river currently undergoing restoration. The Salt and other rivers are degraded due to a federal program of removal of native species and replanting with exotic species such as tamarisk. The idea was that exotic species would reduce water use and improve water availability to human communities. Unfortunately, the exotic trees expanded and have reduced water availability, water quality, and reduced the health and biodiversity of communities associated with riparian ecosystems.

Being so close to Phoenix, this project is attracting thousands of volunteers and has led to the development of a conservation education program call Green Drone. Green Drone involves our staff mentoring students from ASU that, in turn, work with High School students from throughout the Phoenix metro area.

The People:

Where we are working on the Salt River is managed by the Tonto National Forest. So the primary benefactors of this project are the people of Phoenix, who will have access to the cities closest and largest riparian restoration project. Other projects where we are working are managed by State and Federal agencies. However, we are working to increase public participation in restoration activities with at least 10,000 volunteers participating in the restoration process.

The Restoration:

We have planted over 300,000 trees across these western rivers. This has involved removing around 400 acres of exotic species.

We have worked with K-12 schools, volunteer groups from the companies that have supported this work such as Intel and Boeing, and Audobon has partnered on bringing youth groups to help with planting and monitoring.

We are working with Arizona State Forestry where we have developed a nature rehabilitation program for inmates. Thousands of inmates have been involved in weed eradication and planting of trees in watersheds of Arizona.

The Agua Fria River project involves a NSF funded research project where we are working to understand climate change impacts to plants and the communities that they support as well as guide efforts to select the best genotypes and seeds adapted to future climates.