Forest Restoration May Only Have Short-term Positive Effects on Ground Water Storage in Semi-arid Aquifers

by Zoe Dilles

The already scarce water resources of the semi-arid western United States will become increasingly precarious with the progression of warming and drying climate change. When compounded with growing demand for water, this issue mandates a balanced management practice incorporating sustainable water budgets and land use. Forest restoration efforts are currently slated for an area of some 600,000 acres of National Forest in north-central Arizona, comprising nearly 1% of the state’s footprint. These treatments, anticipated to last the duration of the coming decade, will consist of selective thinning and burning of high-density conifer forest to mitigate wildfire potential and increase the health of regional forested watersheds. The impact of tree removal on surface water has been the subject of previous study but is rarely quantified in regards to groundwater resources. Especially in such a dry region, the future of water availability lies in the relationship between rainfall and recharge of deep aquifers, reservoirs that are permanently diminished through over-pumping. Continue reading