Justin Eddinger of the Lower Salt River Restoration Project and Rebecca Davidson, Director of the Southwest Region for the National Forest Foundation (NFF), explain how funding from Intel is helping restore the Lower Salt River basin in the Arizona desert, which supplies up to 60% of the water for the Phoenix metro area. 

On April 25, 2017, a wildfire known as the Cactus Fire took place in the Lower Salt River basin. To support their restoration plan, the NFF applied for a grant from Intel to fund work on 70 acres of riparian habitat in the scorched area in 2018. 

Impact of invasive species on water resources 

The fire’s severity was exceptional for a desert riparian ecosystem due to the presence of a non-native plant species called Salt Cedar. Invasive species typically use resources—like water and nutrients—faster than native species. 

If nothing was done, the area would return to a monoculture of Salt Cedar which could create conditions conducive to future devastating fires. 

Davidson reminds us that with the impacts of climate change, things are getting hotter and fires are burning longer while water resources are diminishing. She gives the example of the Colorado River, where water supplies have been declining in storage reservoirs. 

Aims of the restoration project 

One of the project’s goals is to minimize the population of invasive species and increase abundance and diversity of native plants. With Intel’s support, the NFF has been able to restore approximately 150 million gallons of water annually to the Salt River system. Intel has also made it possible for them to replant the area with about 100,000 native trees. 

Davidson stresses the importance of restoration for biodiversity and wildlife, as well as for people. She cautions that if we fail to act now, these special places where we seek recreation and on which we depend will undoubtedly be affected. And it isn’t only in the desert Southwest that rivers need restoration efforts. 

The future of the Lower Salt River basin and beyond 

Davidson states that without Intel’s support, the Lower Salt River Restoration Project’s existence would be in jeopardy. She also describes how the effort itself is important from a water sustainability perspective, and she highlights the importance of the people behind the effort—who can serve as models for people in other places.