Forest Service, Denver water announce $33 million ‘Forests to Faucet’ partnership to treat about 38,000 acres in next five years including 6,000 acres in
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service will join forces to treat about 38,000 acres of critical watersheds to try and prevent catastrophic damage to key streams and reservoirs, top officials announced Saturday, speaking at a press conference at the Dillon Marina, within sight of Denver Water’s largest mountain reservoir.
The precedent-setting $33 million “Forest to Faucet” partnership covers about 6,000 acres in the Blue River watershed in Summit County, including 4,700 acres already planned for treatment by the Forest Service, plus another 1,300 acres to be treated when Denver Water pitches in another $1 million starting Oct. 1. Other projects are planned around Strontia Springs, Gross, Antero, Eleven Mile Canyon and Cheeseman reservoirs.
The partnership was announced in the context of the pine beetle epidemic that’s wiped out about 3 million acres of lodgepole pine forests in the state.
Part of the Forest Service share of the funding will come from money that’s already been allocated to the Rocky Mountain region of the Forest Service, said Harris Sherman, Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. Additionally, several national forests in Colorado competed favorably for a separate slice of forest health funds that will also specifically toward these critical watershed treatments.
Denver Water customers will pay for the other half of the work, seen as an effective way to prevent the huge back-end costs associated with cleaning up after a fire.
“I don’t think we’ll have any problems selling this to our rate payers,” said Greg Austin, vice president of the Denver Board of Water Commissioners. Austin explained that Denver Water has already spent $10.5 million on dealing with impacts to Strontia Springs Reservoir after the disastrous Hayman fire. It could cost up to another $30 million to complete the restoration, and more if there are significant rainfall events that lead to more erosion and sedimentation.
“The Forest Service can’t do this alone,” said Sherman, adding that about 33 million people in 13 states depend on water that come from Colorado watersheds. “Maintaining these forests is everybody’s business. I applaud Denver Water for their long-term investment in our national forest watersheds.”
The work will focus in thinning, fuel reduction, creating fire breaks, erosion control decommissioning roads, and, eventually, reforestation. The partnership could serve as a model for similar agreements across the West and with other industries, Sherman added, singling out the ski industry and power companies with infrastructure on forested lands.
Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead said the agreement is a critical partnership based on mutual interest, and credited former Denver Water manager Chips Barry with laying the groundwork for the announcement. The work will take place on the Upper South Platte River, in the South Platte River headwaters, the St. Vrain River, and in the Colorado River headwaters, including the Blue River
Sherman referred to his prior service as a member of the Denver Water Board, and as director of the state’s natural resources department, saying: “I’ve see this agreement from every single side … this is personal,” he added, describing the critical need for forest restoration across 3 million acres in Colorado and 18 million acres across the West.
In total, about 110 million acres of national forest system lands are in need of some sort of treatment, Sherman said, saying that natural evolution, fire suppression and global warming are all factors contributing to the need for restoration. Before 2000, up to 5 million acres of forest per year were affected by wildfires; since then, the average has increased to about 5 to 10 million acres, and with longer and more intense droughts expected, that figure could go even higher, he added.
Filed under: Environment, federal government, Forest health, forests, pine beetles and wildfires, rivers, Summit County Colorado Tagged: | Chips Barry, Colorado, Denver Water, Environment, Forests to Faucet, Harris Sherman, Jim Lochhead, Summit County News, Summit Voice, United States, United States Forest Service