It was risky, Paul Summerfelt concedes, to ask voters for an unprecedented $10 million bond issue for forest and watershed restoration. But the greater risk was to do nothing – to wait for the inevitable wildfire that damaged, or destroyed, the city of Flagstaff’s drinking water supply.
So Summerfelt, the city’s wildland fire program manager, took a deep breath and joined his colleagues in local government and the firefighting community and made the request. An unimaginable 74 percent of the northern Arizona city’s voters said yes.
“We never couched the election in terms of cost, but rather in terms of investment,” Summerfelt said. “Wildfires are spectacular; they’re pretty scary,” he said. “But they’re also short-lived. The firefighters leave and life goes back to normal.”
“When we started to talk about the risk in terms of water, that resonated with people because they use water every day. Recognizing that green infrastructure of the forest as the most at-risk component of any municipal water system is the link that absolutely needs to be made.”
Increasingly, communities throughout the American West are making the connection between wildfires and the security of their drinking water. Burn up the forest that sits atop a city’s watershed and there will be significant and long-lasting damage to the flow of water to reservoirs, neighborhoods and, ultimately, kitchen faucets.