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Healthy Forests & Healthy Water Supply: Innovative Financing Part 1 – An Interview with Rebecca Davidson

Rebecca Davidson Head ShotAs we work in these forests, our mantra is about long-term resiliency – not just water yield for the short term.

We talked with Rebecca Davidson of the Salt River Project about the work of the Northern Arizona Forest Fund, and their engagement with large water users.

 


What gave Salt River Project the great idea to do the Northern Arizona Forest Fund?

It all started with being involved in the 4-FRI collaboration. That process has given us a better understanding of the stake we have in protecting our watersheds. We’re still very active in 4-FRI collaborative but have also realized that SRP has very little control to accelerate the process – it’s in the hands of the feds. We got a little frustrated which in turn led us to want to do things faster, and to get projects going now, so we began looking at other opportunities to get work done in the forest.

As part of the work in 4-FRI, and in other collaborative efforts to develop concepts for various funding mechanisms, we learned from casual side conversations with both the National Forest Foundation and the Forest Service. We learned that there is a laundry list of NEPA-ready priority watershed improvement projects shovel-ready, outside of the 4-FRI boundaries planning process -– and funding was the only thing needed to make them happen.

So as a result, SRP came up with the idea of the Northern Arizona Forest Fund about a year ago and launched it last fall with our partner the National Forest Foundation and in collaboration with the Forest Service.

Since then we’ve been building the business case to some of our large power and water customers for why restoring these forests is critical for maintaining a resilient and long term water supply, for rural prosperity and for economic vitality here in the Valley. We’ve raised close to a million dollars since last fall, focusing on two priority projects where restoration work will begin this spring. We are also working to develop our list of projects next year, with an aim of hitting every project type, and across each of the forests in our watershed. (Ed. see NAFF Background piece for more details.)

What’s been your biggest challenge?

It’s really a continual challenge – working to build the connection between what happens in the watershed and what happens in the valley. Like most places, people don’t have a clear picture of where their water comes from. We want to help change that and tell the story of our water.

In addition to focusing on our business customers, we are also talking with the ten cities in Maricopa County that we deliver water to on behalf of our shareholders to see if they’d like help with this work.

What does success look like five years from now?

We’d really like to see this program evolve into a more holistic framework – to work on a broader landscape approach.

Success will also be about participation from a wide range of stakeholders representing the broader community of interest who can tell the story of water and forest resiliency – and really be advocates.

 

Rebecca Davidson is a Senior Water Rights Analyst at Salt River Project (SRP). Rebecca works on issues associated with water policy and management, strategic watershed initiatives, and the development of partnerships and other projects that protect water resources for SRP shareholders while also promoting watershed restoration and stream conservation activities. Prior to SRP, Rebecca worked for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and has experience in federal land planning, natural resource and wildlife management, environmental regulations, and endangered species biology and monitoring. Rebecca has a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science from NAU, and a Masters in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School.

4/7/15

Image – Tim Roberts Photography / Shutterstock.com

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