Colorado wildfire prevention partnership to receive $33 million in funding over the next five years | SummitDaily.com

Colorado wildfire prevention partnership to receive $33 million in funding over the next five years

The From Forests to Faucets program will receive $33 million in funding toward forest restoration projects aiming to reduce the risk of wildfires. The funding will come in over five years and will help treat more than 40,000 acres near critical watersheds in Colorado.

The program is a partnership between Denver Water, the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service, the Colorado State Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Restoration projects first began in 2011, with funding planned until 2016. The renewal of the program was announced at the end of February.

Bill Jackson, the Dillon District ranger, said that 5,409 acres of land in Summit County were treated for wildfire risk in the first five years of the program, including the Frisco Penninsula and camping areas near Wildernest.

"It's essentially a cost share, where (Denver Water) helps fund some of the implementation of some of those projects and the Forest Service matches during the planning process," Jackson said.

Denver Water will invest $16.5 million into the program. The U.S. Forest Service will receive the bulk of the funding at $11.5 million. The Colorado State Forest Service will get $3 million, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service will get the remaining $2 million. Each entity matches the amount of funding they get from Denver Water.

The program has already identified areas to work in over the next five years of funding. From Forests to Faucets goes into high-risk areas to remove dead vegetation or trees in order to promote new growth and to help prevent wildfires. Much of the work overlaps with removing trees from areas impacted by beetlekill.

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New growth can also add to diversity in both age and type of plant in the area, which can help forests be more resilient to wildfires.

After the Hayman wildfire in 2002, rains sent sediment into the Cheesman Reservoir. The state spent nearly $30 million restoring and repairing the area.

"Having lots of sediment loading into a reservoir is not cheap to clean, and it affects the quality of water going to the recipients of that water," Jackson said.

For several years after the fire, Denver Water had to continue working on repairing the reservoir. The From Forests to Faucets program was then created to focus on preventative measures. According to Jackson, a little bit of prevention can go a long way in helping to stop wildfires. The World Resources Institute highlighted the success of the program in a report from October 2016 called "Protecting Drinking Water at the Source."

"As the water provider to more than 1.4 million people in the Denver metropolitan area, Denver Water directly depends on healthy forests that make up its watersheds," Jim Lochhead, the CEO of Denver Water, said in a release. Some of the projects planned for Summit involve creating a buffer between areas that are potential risks for fires and major roadways within the county. During the first round of funding for From Forests to Faucets, Jackson said they worked on a similar project along Colorado State Highway 9. He is hoping they can begin work on Swan Mountain Road and Montezuma Road.

Another goal of the project is to use the funding to work on projects that benefit all of the entities involved. Jackson said that firefighters are able to use clear-cut areas that have been treated as safe zones when trying to put out a potential wildfire.

"It's multi-purpose," Jackson said. "We can often achieve a common objective through these projects. We're all trying to do the right thing out there with our limited dollars."

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