[env-trinity] Redding.com Editorial: Forests supply water, so shouldn't water users restore them?

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Sun Dec 15 13:39:25 PST 2013


Editorial: Forests supply water, so shouldn't water users restore them?
Staff Reports
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Last week’s water-bond hearing brought a much-needed political focus on the link between up-country forests and the water supplies of those downstream — but even Assemblyman Brian Dahle, who’ll grab any opportunity to push the issue, doesn’t really think a state bond is the way to pay to thin and tend forests.
So what’s the better way? How about we bill the people using the water for the work needed to restore watersheds? Get Angelenos to pay for maintain the North State forests that are the source of their clean water.
It’s not as far-fetched as it might sound. One city’s already doing it.
Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico and a mountain town surrounded by fire-prone national forests that feed its reservoir, over the past few years has developed a plan to restore its watershed, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Federal money got the ball rolling, but to pay the future tab, the city imposed a small surcharge on water bills — a few bucks a year per resident.
What do those water customers get in return? Firefighting costs are reduced. Water treatment costs are lower. The huge expense of dredging a silted-up reservoir is delayed. For an investment estimated as $5.1 million over 20 years, the city figures it will avoid costs in the tens or even hundreds of millions. Not the worst insurance policy.
California is far larger and more complex than one little high-desert city with a convenient neighboring watershed that makes a tidy package, but is the principle much different? And couldn’t the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the state Department of Water Resources, which spend seemingly endless millions of dollars studying how to stretch the state’s water supply, focus a measure of their energy on looking upstream from their dams? If water agencies and the government are going to spend billions on new dams and pipes, shouldn’t they look at the whole package from mountaintop to tap?
Watershed forests obviously need protection, but they need to be more than just to be walled off. Investing in them — and putting locals to work in them — is a lot more attractive than simply closing roads and ignoring forests till they burn.
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