- Associated Press - Saturday, December 2, 2017

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) - The U.S. Forest Service is planning to barricade and undo miles of unauthorized dirt roads in the forest south of Flagstaff in an effort improve water quality.

The unofficial roads crisscrossing the Coconino National Forest contribute sediment that gets picked up and carried downstream, disrupting the water quality in places like Oak Creek and Lake Mary, The Arizona Daily Sun reported .

Oak Creek and Lake Mary have high E. coli and mercury levels linked to road-related sediment from the surrounding watershed.

The sediment contributes to E. coli levels in Oak Creek by performing as a bacteria reservoir, said Sharon Masek Lopez, executive director of the Oak Creek Watershed Council. The bacteria rests in streambed soils and sediments and mixes into the water when disturbed, she said.

The Forest Service’s proposal targets and blocks off roads that have been decommissioned or are not part of the agency’s road system, said Tom Runyon, a hydrologist with the national forest. Workers would then break up the road dirt and place mulch and plant seeds to restore the area back to natural forest.

The federal agency is still mapping roads in the areas likely to be targeted. Runyon said survey crews have already located about 10 miles (16 kilometers) of unofficial roads.

Crews will prioritize spots where road-related sediment could directly drain into a stream, with the first site likely to be east of the community of Mountainaire, Runyon said.

The Forest Service is planning to fund a crew of eight people to start work this summer. The agency also is looking to recruit volunteers.

Masek Lopez said the proposal won’t solve the entire issue, but it will “make a nice dent in the problem.”


Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/

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