Where fire meets water | SummitDaily.com

Where fire meets water

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News

Hit hard by watershed clean-up costs in the wake of past wildfires, Denver Water is launching efforts to protect crucial water supplies from future wildfire.

Denver Water is launching a study of problem areas in the Upper Colorado region.

“(The study will) look at what would happen if there were a wildfire in the watershed,” said Don Kennedy of Denver Water, listing possible flooding and erosion among the concerns .

The Watershed Assessment and Prioritization, conducted in two phases, will take a critical look at both the East Slope and West Slope watersheds. For the West Slope, the study will include Summit and Grand county areas, including the Blue River and Colorado River, Williams Fork, Fraser River, Willow Creek, Colorado River out of Rocky Mountain National Park, the Troublesome drainage and Muddy Creek.

The analysis is tailored to large-scale watersheds 10,000 to 40,000 acres in size, and will conclude just outside of Kremmling. It is hoped the study will point out what areas are most threatened and are in need of forest treatments, such as sediment traps, firebreaks, erosion control or measures such as pre-permitting to quickly do what’s necessary to protect water supplies during a catastrophic fire.

With six fires spanning from the Buffalo Creek Fire in 1996 to the Hayman Fire in 2002 ” the epic fire that destroyed 138,000 acres and debilitated the Strontia Springs Reservoir ” Denver Water spent $8 million on post-fire restorations and plans to spend another $25 million in 2010 to remove sediment from the Hayman-affected reservoir.

Where water flows into the reservoir, more than one million cubic yards of material accumulated from the aftermath of that fire, Kennedy said. Denver Water is initiating the legwork for upcoming watershed assessments along with the Northern Water Conservancy District, the U.S. Forest Service, the Colorado State Forest Service, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Colorado Springs Utilities, the City of Aurora, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Conservation Service.

The Upper Colorado phase of the study will cost $27,340, with both East and West Slope watershed assessments coming in at $56,756.

Denver Water has contracted with forest hydrologist Brad Piehl of JW Associates of Breckenridge to work on the study and has gained commitments for financial support from the Town of Winter Park, Grand County, the Winter Park Resort through the Clinton Ditch and Reservoir Company, Grand County Water and Sanitation Number One, the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Winter Park Water and Sanitation District. A Feb. 5 public meeting on the project at Winter Park Resort was well received by those who attended from Grand County, Kennedy said.

With changes in climate and the onset of the mountain pine beetle compounding the ill health of the regions’ forests, “We must be more involved in the planning process to protect our drinking water supply,” Kennedy said.

It’s estimated the assessment, which will include data from plans already completed such as local Community Wildfire Protection Plans, will last six months before completion.

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