Forest to Faucet Partnership- Denver Water

Thanks to Terry Seyden for this one…
Here’s the link.

By Jim Lochhead
and Dan Jirón
Guest Commentary

National Forest lands serve as the primary source of water that sustains cities and farmlands up and down the Front Range. This summer’s tragic wildfire season, fueled by heat and drought, once again demonstrated that catastrophic wildfires can wreak havoc on our watersheds and have devastating impact on life and property.

Fires impact water supply and water quality by increasing flows of sediment, debris and ash into streams and rivers, requiring emergency measures at treatment plants and millions of dollars to repair damage to habitat, reservoirs and facilities. Today, Colorado Springs and communities in the Fort Collins area are facing the immediate and long-term impacts from the Waldo Canyon and High Park Fires on their water supplies.

More than 10 years ago, the Buffalo Creek and Hayman fires brought to the forefront the need to work more closely together to tackle the impact of wildfires on Denver’s most critical water supply. We learned that our water infrastructure is more than pipes and dams. For Denver Water, our infrastructure encompasses more than 2 million acres of forested land in eight counties. Our investment in these watersheds is a long-term commitment to keeping them healthy decades from now.

We can’t prevent fire from occurring, but healthy forests can reduce the threat of catastrophic fire, like we experienced this year. Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service have for decades worked side-by-side to care for the watersheds that provide water to Colorado citizens and Denver Water’s customers. Two years ago we forged a partnership — called “From Forests to Faucets” — to work in high-priority watersheds to accelerate forest health treatments that promote healthier, more resilient forests, reduce wildfire risks, restore burned areas and lessen erosion into reservoirs.

Last week, Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service signed the third annual commitment of funds in support of this partnership. Together, we are focused on treating and restoring 38,000 acres of National Forest System lands in five priority watersheds including the Upper South Platte, South Platte headwaters, Colorado River headwaters, St. Vrain and Blue River. Since the From Forests to Faucets partnership began in 2010, we are currently treating nearly 17,000 acres.

In the Indian Creek drainage near the Rampart recreation area on the Pike National Forest, crews have treated more than 600 acres by removing ground fuels and thinning trees and reducing the threat and impacts of wildfire in the area. Near Dillon Reservoir, which is part of the Blue River Watershed on the White River National Forest, we’ve treated 600 acres, and 1,400 acres will be treated in 2013. Treatments include removing bark beetle-affected trees around the reservoir, while leaving the cut trees on the ground to support the next generation of forest.

The critical work done in these priority watersheds means improved water quality for Denver Water customers and millions of downstream water users, and healthier ecosystems, which benefit forest visitors and wildlife. While our current agreement focuses on reaching specific goals by 2015, we recognize that we’ll be working together for decades to come.

We are extremely proud of the work accomplished to date to protect our National Forest lands. The outcome of pulling our resources together, prioritizing work within critical watersheds, and putting people to work on the ground to improve water quality and quantity makes a real difference for Denver Water customers, forest visitors, and the ecosystem. We feel strongly that this partnership is a replicable example for future opportunities to approach critical watershed and forest restoration with partners that can only gain from what each can bring to the table.

Jim Lochhead is CEO and manager of Denver Water. Dan Jirón is a regional forester with the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region.

I wonder why this water partnerships like this are a New Mexico/Colorado phenomenon and not a California/Montana phenomenon? Maybe I just don’t know about them elsewhere? Maybe the lack of a forest industry means that these things can happen without the timber wars ghosts? Ideas?

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