Interior, USDA Partnership Protects and Restores Important Central Arizona Watershed

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Restoration of C.C. Cragin Reservoir provides next step in Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership

PAYSON, Arizona, Aug. 27, 2014 – Interior Deputy Secretary Michael Connor and Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie joined state, local and private partners today to mark the signing of a new joint watershed restoration agreement for C.C. Cragin Reservoir in Central Arizona. The agreement is a pilot project of the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership, aimed at reducing the risks of costly wildfires and their impact on western watersheds as part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan.

"This agreement reflects our commitment to work with state and local partners in restoring and improving the health and resiliency of priority watersheds in Central Arizona," Deputy Secretary Connor said. "Restoration activities and proactive planning help minimize the impacts of the hotter and longer wildfire seasons on western reservoirs and other critical infrastructure, and help water managers avoid costly repairs in the future."

"USDA and the Obama Administration are working with partners across the country to restore the health of our forests and watersheds across public and private lands," Under Secretary Bonnie said. "Given longer fire seasons and increased fuel loads in our forests, increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration is critical to reducing the threat of catastrophic fire and protecting watersheds."

This new partnership joins the Salt River Project, National Forest Foundation, City of Payson, Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Forest Service in collaborative efforts to assess and implement treatments that protect the municipal water supply and minimize wildfire and flood risks. Potential projects include forest thinning, prescribed fire, tree planting, riparian vegetation improvements, stream, spring and channel restoration and other forest and watershed health improvements on National Forest System lands within the area.

The partners will develop a collaborative five-year action plan specifying the treatment zones and planned restoration and protection activities, as well as accomplishment goals and funding commitments.

Deputy Secretary Connor and Under Secretary Bonnie were joined by Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, Salt River Project Deputy General Manager John Sullivan and National Forest Foundation's Colorado Program Director Marcus Selig.

Since 2002, three large fires have threatened the watersheds that contribute to C.C. Cragin Reservoir, burning more than 10,000 acres. The location of these fires was of great concern due to their potential to quickly progress through a large part of the watersheds. There have been several small fires near C.C. Cragin Reservoir itself, including one last year that burned 40 acres and one this year burning close to ten acres.

The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership was formally established in July 2013 by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Its goal is to restore forest and watershed health, and proactively plan for post-wildfire responses to protect municipal and agricultural water supplies. Flows of sediment, debris and ash into streams and rivers after wildfires can damage water quality and often require costly emergency measures at treatment plants to repair damage to habitat, reservoirs and facilities. Restoration projects aim to maintain reliable, clean and sustainable water supplies in the West by reducing wildfire risk through forest thinning, prescribed fire and other forest health treatments, minimizing post-wildfire erosion and sedimentation and restoring areas that are currently recovering from past wildfires through tree planting and other habitat improvements.

Interior and USDA are working with state and local stakeholders on five additional pilots across the West, including:

  • Colorado-Big Thompson Headwaters in Colorado;
  • Boise River Reservoir Partnership in Idaho;
  • Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region in California;
  • Yakima Basin in Washington State; and
  • Hungry Horse Reservoir/Flathead River in Montana.

C.C. Cragin Dam and Reservoir, part of the Salt River Project since 2005 when the Arizona Water Settlements Act was implemented, is part of a system of reservoirs in two watersheds encompassing 8.4 million acres. It impounds water from East Clear Creek, a tributary to Clear Creek and the Little Colorado River. Virtually all of the land surrounding the reservoir is owned by the USDA Forest Service. The Reservoir and Dam are owned by Reclamation but operated by the Salt River Project.

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