Phoenix Mayor Plants More Trees Despite Drought Emergency, Giving Up Water Rights

Phoenix Mayor Plants More Trees Despite Drought Emergency, Giving Up Water Rights

By Corinne Murdock |

As Phoenicians are asked to use less and pay more for water conservation efforts, the city continues with its plans to plant more trees.

The homeless are the main beneficiaries of tree shade. City leaders have characterized the tree planting efforts as an initiative to improve equity.

The city of Phoenix recently forfeited its Colorado River water rights in exchange for $60 million in federal funding for infrastructure. They joined Tucson and the state in doing so. 

Phoenix is also planning an increase in its water usage fees by 26 percent, and wastewater service rates by 20 percent. The city also plans to cut water allowance by 16 percent in the winter months, and 20 percent in the summer months. 

Prior to giving away the city’s water rights, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego discussed the plan to plant more trees during a Valentine’s Day interview with The Washington Post. Gallego focused on the trees resulting in an equitable impact for poorer citizens. 

“We said that as we plant trees in our city, we would do it with an eye towards equity,” said Gallego. “Like many communities, our wealthier areas tend to have more tree cover than the areas that have not had as much investment.” 

Gallego said at the time that their vision was a 25 percent increase in tree coverage within the next seven years and 100 “cool corridors,” or areas with tree cover. The city’s initiative can be traced back to the American Forests’ Tree Equity Pledge; Phoenix was the first city to sign on. These “cool corridors” will be backed by both local and federal funds. 

These tree planting efforts aren’t without their setbacks: time and precious resources, such as water, lost on failed planting attempts. Gallego admitted in the Valentine’s Day interview that some of the trees planted have already been lost. She cited issues with the trees’ ability to thrive in certain urban settings. 

“We also had some real challenges with some rough summer storms, and we planted in right-of-ways where the root box wasn’t big enough always to maintain the trees. So we lost some of the new trees we planted,” said Gallego.

Phoenix co-leads a Phoenix Region Urban Forestry Roundtable with American Forests, and recently committed $1.6 million to the initiative. 

The city also plans to pay for residents to take care of these trees or potentially launch tree care-related businesses through a “Residential Tree Equity Accelerator” program. Gallego said that the program might alleviate the summer heat and reduce air conditioning bills. 

Gallego shared that the city was seeking additional federal funding through the Inflation Reduction Act for their “urban forestry” efforts. Gallego revealed that the Biden administration has been supportive of cities like Phoenix using both COVID and economic federal relief funds for environmental initiatives. 

“We have seen, I think, a huge acceleration with federal partnership. So, first, we were one of the communities that took American Rescue Plan dollars and put it into heat and shade trees, and then maybe not a story that’s been told a lot, but the Inflation Reduction Act is a generational investment in American forests and tree equity, including urban forests,” said Gallego. “And so we are still competing for those dollars, but we think that could be the most important partnership we have in achieving our goals.”

Arizona is currently in a historic Tier 2a drought status, according to the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). 2023 marked the second year of cuts to Arizona’s water supply from the Colorado River, a major source for the state. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to