The North Slope of Pikes Peak in Teller County is one of three areas the Colorado State Forest Service will spend $1 million each on to protect forests and water supplies.
“For 80 percent of Coloradans, their water starts in the state’s forests before making its way downstream to their taps,” the Forest Service says in a release. “Given this connection, it is important for Colorado to protect its forested watersheds from the ever-present threat of wildfire to ensure residents and communities have water for drinking, agriculture and other uses.”
The grants of $1 million each are funded through House Bill 22-1379, which aims to fund projects that reduce wildfire fuels around high-priority watersheds and water infrastructure.
The North Slope project will help protect essential drinking water and water infrastructure for Colorado Springs. Reservoirs on the North Slope provide about 15 percent of the city’s drinking water supply. The project will add to more than 3,500 acres of prior fuels treatments on Colorado Springs Utilities’ municipal lands and fill a gap in treated areas around North Catamount Reservoir and the headwaters of North Catamount Creek. It will also help protect infrastructure that conveys water from the utility’s Blue River collection system to the reservoir.
The Pikes Peak Watershed is noted as a high priority area in plans by the State Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service and Springs Utilities, the release said. It is also in a focus area for the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative.
“Colorado Springs Utilities’ 34-year-long partnership with the Colorado State Forest Service has enabled many beneficial forest management activities that reduce the risks and impacts of wildfire in and adjacent to our watersheds,” Jeremy Taylor, forest program manager with Colorado Springs Utilities, said in the release. “Through the Pikes Peak Good Neighbor Authority (GNA), we’ve expanded this collaboration to include the U.S. Forest Service for cross-boundary work, and we’re now embarking on the Big Blue project on the North Slope of Pikes Peak. It’s a valued partnership that prioritizes working together to improve forest health and protect our water resources, public lands and neighboring private lands.”
Weston Toll, watershed program specialist at the State Forest Service, labeled the three recipient locations as “high-priority areas” where wildland fire could significant impact water supplies and infrastructure. “All three projects connect to prior fuels reduction work completed by the CSFS and our partners, so we can make an impact on a large scale in our forests.”
Another project will focus on the Fraser Valley in Grand County to lower the risk of wildfire to water supplies for Denver and the towns of Fraser and Winter Park by reducing fuels on U.S. Forest Service, Denver Water and private lands. It connects to several prior treatment areas to establish a connected, large-scale fuel break that could allow firefighters to engage a wildfire in the event of a fire, the release said.
The Staunton State Park project will build upon more than 800 acres of prior fuels treatments to reduce the impact a wildfire could have to water resources, communities, outdoor recreation areas and wildlife habitat, the State Forest Service said. Creeks running through the park feed into the North Fork South Platte River, which flows into Strontia Springs Reservoir. Eighty percent of Denver Water’s water supply moves through Strontia Springs Reservoir.
The area lies about six miles west of Conifer and is noted as a priority for action in assessments by the numerous agencies, including Denver Water, Upper South Platte Partnership, Elk Creek Fire Protection District and others.
“This project will allow us to get into areas of the park we haven’t been able to treat yet,” Staunton State Park Manager Zach Taylor said in the release, “to reduce the risk of a wildfire spreading from the park to adjacent neighborhoods.”
Work is expected to start this year. All three projects are geared toward achieving goals in the 2020 Colorado Forest Action Plan.
Said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, “The three projects announced today build on existing efforts to increase resiliency and make impactful investments in key watersheds to create healthier forests and reduce the threat of future wildfires.”