Local Nonprofit Launches Initiative to Protect Big Thompson Water Supplies

Big Thompson Canyon. Image courtesy of www.allestespark.com

Peaks to People Water Fund have launched its Big Thompson Initiative in Northern Colorado to proactively treat wildfire risk through accelerated forest restoration and stewardship in the watersheds.

The Big Thompson watershed’s water infrastructure supplies between 40 percent and 55 percent of Fort Collins, Loveland, and Greeley’s annual water needs, providing water to 30 additional towns and cities along the state’s front range. The state’s forests have become dense and overgrown after years of protection from wildfire, which has increased the risk of severe wildfires such as the Cameron Peak Fire that threaten water supplies with sedimentation and debris.

“Living in an environment where fire is part of the natural cycle is our reality in Northern Colorado, but Peaks to People and its partners are working to return the forest to a healthy condition that minimizes the intensity of fires when they do strike,” said Alex Castino, Great Outdoors Colorado Land Protection Program Officer. “This allows people and small businesses, plants and animals, waterways and water infrastructure, to bounce back quickly and thrive in this beautiful place we all call home,” Alex said.

The Cameron Peak and East Troublesome wildfires west of Fort Collins emphasize the urgent need for proactive treatment with a combined cost of over $149 million to suppress them and more than 1,000 miles of river impacted. The Peaks to People Water Fund team has analyzed and determined that treating 37,000 acres within the 575,000-acre Big Thompson watershed could reduce 90 percent of severe fire risk while conserving the forests most essential for water supply.

Peaks to People plans to invest a total of $90 million through the Big Thompson Initiative over the course of the next ten years to restore forests to their natural state and reduce the risk of severe wildfires. Treatments are costly at as much as $3,600 per acre with Peaks to People working with partners to leverage funds to stretch contributions.

“First, given limited resources, we need to use science and data to focus our efforts on areas of the greatest need. Second, given the magnitude of the job, no one entity can handle this by themselves,” said Mike Lester, Director of the Colorado State Forest Service. “Peaks to People pulls together a partnership that is more powerful than its individual participants,” Mike said.

Peaks to People have partnered with the Colorado State Forest Service, Nature Conservancy of Colorado, Big Thompson Conservation District, Larimer County Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Forest Restoration Institute, Brendle Group, and the Center for Collaborative Conservation to make this initiative successful. More funding must be raised to accomplish the initiative’s goals even though some funding is already in place.

“We are looking for strategic investors to make significant contributions in this crucial conservation effort,” said Heather Schinkel, Executive Director Peaks to People Water Fund. “Joining together, we can protect the natural resources, wild-lands, and agricultural areas upon which our quality of life depends,” Heather said.


For more information regarding the Peaks to People Water Fund, visit: https://peakstopeople.org

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