Colorado Wildfires: More than One Million Residents Now Face Water Challenges

Poudre River watershed with Cameron Peak Fire burning in background.  Photo courtesy Battalion Chief D. Dority, Wellington Fire Protection District via Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed

Community Foundation Launches Fund to Restore Watersheds

The Colorado wildfires are finally under control but the recovery will take years, and 1 million residents now face water challenges.

First came the recent Colorado Wildfires. Now comes the need.

After months of fire and smoke, anxiety, and destruction, the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome wildfires are under control. But the recovery work has just begun.

The two catastrophic fires not only destroyed 400,000 acres, hundreds of homes and outbuildings, they’ve brought damaging and lasting effects to both the Poudre and the Big Thompson rivers. In addition to sustaining wildlife, recreation, and farming across the region, these precious rivers give so much more. They provide our community with peaceful places to gather and play as well as drinking water to over 1,000,000 residents.

And just like the people whose lives were disrupted by the fires, these rivers and the landscapes that surround them are in desperate need of recovery.

This is why the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado launched NoCoFires Fund to help mitigate the fire’s damage and focus on restoring our backyard. “It takes years to rebuild physical infrastructure and restore the natural environment, and funders such as the Foundation play a key role in rebuilding by making strategic investments,” said Mark Driscoll, chair of Community Foundation board of trustees. “Specifically, the Fund is working with partners who will support erosion control efforts and long-term solutions to restore our water supply – important issues that will affect citizens in Northern Colorado for years to come.”

Cameron Peak, the largest Colorado wildfire in the state’s history, has burned 209,000 acres.  In response, water providers, municipalities, governmental agencies, elected officials, nonprofit organizations, and concerned citizens are pulling together for watershed recovery.

“We are working with Larimer County to develop a watershed-scale burn assessment, and with the U.S. Forest Service on plans and permits for post-fire mitigation to protect water quality that will also protect infrastructure and habitat,” said Sean Chambers, director of water and sewer at the city of Greeley. “A small amount of mitigation work is underway, but much work lies ahead. Stakeholders need to align with resources to prevent fire debris and sediment loading in Northern Colorado streams, rivers, wetlands, and water supply reservoirs.”

Early estimates show that mitigation in the Poudre River watershed will cost around $50 million and will also support about 60,000 acres burned in the Big Thompson watershed.

Among the stakeholders involved in the mitigation effort is the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW), which was formed to address the effects of the 2012 High Park Fire that burned over 87,000 acres.

Federal funds will be available to offset some costs of the Colorado wildfires but won’t come close to covering all the mitigation costs. “We desperately need the community to help us fill that gap so we can ensure the best possible outcomes for the watershed,” added CPRW executive director Jennifer Kovecses.

Meanwhile, the NoCoFires Fund will help to provide support for recovery efforts as permanent sources of funding are formalized, by filling gaps in funding, potentially providing much-needed matching dollars, and leveraging dollars to bring more support into Larimer County.

“The Foundation is proud to play a leadership role in collecting and distributing funding to support recovery from these fires,” the Foundation’s Driscoll added. “We have the experience and expertise to assist our community through disasters.”

It’s time to focus on mitigation and address the critical, intermediate needs and begin long-term recovery work. The Community Foundation has the track record, leadership, and relationships to positively impact Northern Colorado. The Foundation invites you to join us nocofoundation.org/fires/.

For more information about the Coalition for the Poudre Watershed – https://www.poudrewatershed.org/

 

Cameron Peak Fire impacts

  • 1,000+ river miles
  • 124+ trail miles
  • 40,000+ acres of designated Wilderness Areas
  • 32 miles of Wild and Scenic River corridor
  • Three watersheds
  • Five reservoirs that store and deliver water to the Front Range for agriculture and drinking water
  • 16 mountain communities and neighborhoods in the burn area or immediately adjacent to it
  • 185,000 irrigated acres rely on the Poudre River

Data source: Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed

*This article was written by Mishelle Baun

 

Watch NOCO Now, a video discussion about the serious need for funding to start the cleanup of the Colorado wildfires now.