For more than 25 years, I have been fighting an issue that sounds simple: remove salt cedar trees, replace them with natural vegetation and let the Gila River flow once again. As I have learned over the last two decades, this issue is anything but simple.
What I have learned and experienced first-hand; this issue was much more about resident safety than being able to see the river flow. In 2005, I stood on Beloat Road and took pictures of the Buck Fire. A fire in the Allenville area that burnt hot, fast and extremely dangerous through the salt cedar forest that had engulfed what was once the Gila River.
The fire burned over several days, and took about a hundred firefighters working around the clock to control. It burned nearby businesses, homes and threatened downtown Buckeye. One of the first lessons I learned about these salt cedars is that they grow back.
The Allenville area that was left with blackened branches in 2005, now has thousands of salt cedars that grew back thicker, taller and more-dense than ever before. Fire Chief Bob Costello drives the area often to see just what kind of risk we would have if another fire emerges, and he recently reported that if we had a fire, it could be devastating to our region.
The salt cedars have grown so tall and dense they grow below and above the SR 85 bridge. Heat from the salt cedars could easily damage that bridge and close a road that serves 12,000 cars a day (according to ADOT).
Another lesson I learned from salt cedars is that the density and location of the trees would be a perfect storm for major flood damage to the entire downtown Buckeye area. A flood in this area could shut down the wastewater treatment facility that services over 30,000 customers.
For the first time in my 25-year quest, we are making strides for real change.
The final lesson I would like to share about this invasive tree species is how much water is being consumed by the trees. Our experts say a single salt cedar uses up to 300 gallons of water per tree each day. If these were removed, we could see over 50,000 acre feet of water back into the flowing river. That is equal to the usage of approximately 200,000 households.
So what are we doing about this in Buckeye? Everything we can. In the last few months, momentum for what we call the Gila River Projects – Restore the River has been building. April 6th we had teams from the federal government, county government, and several municipal governments come together and tour the problem areas. This team was accompanied by representatives from Senator McCain and Senator Flake’s office as well as Congressman Gosar’s office. For the first time in my 25 year quest, we are making strides for real change. I write this editorial with hope in my heart that I can inspire one person to write their elected officials and stand with us as we work to fight this problem before we are reporting on the devastation that is sure to come. As Gordon Graham says, “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.”