Here’s the release from the US Department of Interior:
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today announced a federal, local and private partnership that will reduce the risks of wildfire to America’s water supply in western states. The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership is part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which outlines a comprehensive approach to reduce carbon pollution and better prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change, including increased risk of wildfires and drought.
Through the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of the Interior (Interior) will work together with local water users to identify and mitigate risks of wildfire to parts of our nation’s water supply, irrigation and hydroelectric facilities. Flows of sediment, debris and ash into streams and rivers after wildfires can damage water quality and often require millions of dollars to repair damage to habitat, reservoirs and facilities.
USDA’s Forest Service and Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation will kick off the new partnership through a pilot in the Upper Colorado Headwaters and Big Thompson watershed in Northern Colorado. The partnership will include the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado State Forest Service and builds off of past agreements between the Forest Service and municipal water suppliers, such as Denver Water’s Forest to Faucets partnership.
“Today’s announcement brings together the West’s largest forest land manager with the West’s largest water provider to ensure the resilience of our forests and their capacity to provide water supply amid climate threats,” said Vilsack. “This partnership will increase forest resilience, improve water quality, and reduce the risk of catastrophic damage from wildfire. This is good news for anyone who pays a water bill, and it is good news for our environment.”
“In the West, more than forty Reclamation dams and facilities are on or downstream from Forest Service lands where drier, hotter weather has exacerbated the risk of wildfire,” said Jewell. “This partnership can serve as a model for the West when it comes to collaborative and targeted fire threat reduction and restoration efforts to protect our critical water supplies.”
The Memorandum of Understanding signed today at Horsetooth Reservoir outside of Ft. Collins, Colo., will facilitate activities such as wildfire risk reduction through forest thinning, prescribed fire and other forest health treatments; minimizing post-wildfire erosion and sedimentation; and restoring areas that are currently recovering from past wildfires through tree planting and other habitat improvements.
Horsetooth Reservoir is part of the Colorado Big-Thompson water system which provides water to 860,000 people within eight counties (Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer, Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick, Washington and Weld) and to more than 650,000 acres of agricultural land. It also generates enough electricity to power 58,300 homes annually. The area has experienced several fires in the last few years, including the destructive High Park Fire in June, 2012.
USDA and Interior are working with state and local stakeholders toward formalizing additional partnerships in the following areas:
Salt River-CC Cragin project in Arizona;
Boise River Reservoir in Idaho;
Mid-Pacific Reclamation Region in California;
Yakima Basin in Washington State; and Horsethief Reservoir/Flathead River in Montana.
Nationwide, the National Forest System provides drinking water to more than 60 million Americans. The share of water supply originating on national forest lands is particularly high across much of the West, including the upper Colorado River basin where nearly half of all water comes from National Forests. Healthy forests filter rain and snowmelt, regulate runoff and slow soil erosion – delivering clean water at a far lower cost than it would take to build infrastructure to replace these services.
The goal of the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership is to restore forest and watershed health and to proactively plan for post-wildfire response actions intended to protect municipal and agricultural water supplies, infrastructures and facilities, water delivery capabilities and hydro-electric power generation. Forest and watershed restoration activities and proactive planning can help minimize sedimentation impacts on reservoirs and other water and hydro-electric infrastructure by reducing soil erosion and the impacts of wildfires, helping water managers avoid costs for dredging, water filtration, and the need to replace damaged infrastructure.
Although comprehensive data on wildfire costs for water users is unavailable, several wildfires in recent decades illustrate the diversity and magnitude of direct costs:
The 1997 Buffalo Creek and 2002 Hayman Fires forced Denver Water to spend more
than $26 million on dredging Strontia Springs Reservoir, treating water and reseeding the forests in the watershed;
The 2000 Cerro Grande Fire cost the Los Alamos Water Utility more than $9 million and generated about $72.4 million in emergency rehabilitation, restoration and flood mitigation cost;
The 2009 station fire and ensuing storms in 2010 cost the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works $30 million in the aftermath to remove sediment from debris basins. LA County Public Works plans to spend an additional $190 million dredging four reservoirs that are no longer able to reliably meet the county’s needs for flood control and water storage capacity; and
The 2011 Las Conchas Fire prompted the cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque to shut down their water supply intake systems in affected rivers and reservoirs due to ash accumulation.
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
Top U.S. environmental officials Friday began a push to protect the nation’s federally run water-supply reservoirs against wildfires. The fear is that worsening wildfires will trigger erosion that damages dams, canals and pipelines, and shrinks water storage, ultimately driving up water costs for ratepayers.
“Climate change is upon us, our ecosystems are changing and it’s up to us to work collaboratively,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told state, federal and local participants before signing a teamwork agreement at Horsetooth Reservoir, west of Fort Collins, an area where 11 wildfires since 2010 have unleashed sediment that threatens to clog water facilities.
From KUNC (Grace Hood):
“The sad reality is that when we’re faced with ever-increasing fires and the intensity of these fires, it threatens that water supply,” said USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack. “It threatens the quality and the affordability because if this water has to be treated because of sediment and ash and so forth, it obviously can increase the cost.” Vilsack was joined by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in Fort Collins near Horsetooth Reservoir. Burn scars from the High Park and Galena fires were faintly visible in the distance.
Flows of ash and debris into streams after the High Park Fire have caused headaches for local municipalities like Greeley and Fort Collins. To reduce this problem, the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership will focus on restoration and prevention efforts including forest health treatments and efforts to minimize post-wildfire erosion.
Colorado’s pilot project brings together a large group of local, state and federal agencies including the Colorado State Forest Service, Northern Water, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Forest Service.
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, signed a document committing their agencies to work with state and local officials and private landowners in reducing the risk and impact of massive fires. The partnership also is expected to enhance coordinated efforts to keep ash, sediment and other fire debris out of storage facilities such as Horsetooth Reservoir, Vilsack told dignitaries gathered for the signing ceremony. “It will improve water quality; it will protect habitat; and we believe over time it will reduce fire risk,” he said.
Projects that would be pursued through the partnership include reducing “fuel loads” in forested areas through thinning and controlled burns. Controlling erosion after a fire to protect municipal and agricultural water supplies would be another major focus.
A pilot program involving the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Colorado State Forest Service and federal agencies would target the watersheds of the Upper Colorado and Big Thompson rivers. The state forest service has organized a timber sale on land near Northern Water facilities. Proceeds from the sale would go toward restoration programs, said Mike Lester, the Colorado state forester.
From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):
The agreement — called the Western Wastershed Enhancement Partnership — will make it easier for the two agencies to work on forest thinning and prescribed fires, which reduce erosion, and restoring burned areas through tree planting and other habitat improvements, according to the agencies. The pilot program will focus on northern Colorado, the headwaters of the Colorado River and the Big Thompson River watershed.
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., hailed the agreement. “Rivers running thick with soot and flash flooding have tragically shown how the threats wildfires pose to Coloradans and our drinking-water supplies persist long after their final embers are extinguished,” Udall said.
From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell inked the agreement in front of the symbolic backdrop of Horsetooth Reservoir above Fort Collins. Black and red remains of burned trees from two recent wildfires loomed over the reservoir, a reminder that fires lead to erosion that clogs water pipes. The agreement is designed to get around bureaucratic barriers and get going on forest thinning projects to prevent fires, and restoration projects after a fire. “It will improve water quality, it will protect habitat and we believe, over time, it will reduce fire risk,” Vilsack said.
For the Forest Service, the agreement means moving quickly in response to fires such as the West Fork Complex. “We’re concerned about the Rio Grande River and the headwater area there. We’re going to be aggressive in our conservation efforts to make sure we maintain the quality and the safety of that water supply,” Vilsack said.
From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Saja Hindi):
“Holding the signing here in Colorado highlights the fact that we’ve established a pilot project called the Colorado-Big Thompson partnership that brings together Northern Water Conservancy District, Colorado State Forest Service, United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Western Area Power Administration,” said Glenn Casamassa, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland forest supervisor…
Water quality is a paramount concern, according to Eric Wilkinson, manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Wildfire also affects the water supplies that are vitally important to our agriculture economy in this area,” he said.
From the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via The Pueblo Chieftain:
Federal and local agencies will try to speed up efforts to thin vegetation that could fuel catastrophic wildfires which threaten water supplies and hydroelectric facilities, federal officials said Friday. The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership was announced at Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. It will focus on accelerating forest restoration around reservoirs, dams, irrigation systems and hydroelectric projects to reduce the risk of intense fires.
“When a forest fire takes place, it can compromise the water supply that is in those reservoirs,” Vilsack said. “Sediment can build up, and the ash created by fires can cause huge problems downstream in terms of water quality.” The partnership will help agencies leverage resources to reduce the risk of rivers and water projects getting sullied, Vilsack said.
The U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation are launching the effort with a pilot project in the Upper Colorado headwaters and Big Thompson watershed in Northern Colorado, where the High Park Fire burned last year. Under the project, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado State Forest Service will work with the federal agencies on forest thinning and prescribed burns. The work also will include reseeding and restoring burned forests so not as much sediment will run off from burned areas.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, and the Interior Department, which includes the Bureau of Reclamation, are working to formalize similar partnerships around the Salt River-CC Cragin project in Arizona; Boise River Reservoir in Idaho; Mid-Pacific Reclamation Region in California; Yakima Basin in Washington state; and the Horsethief Reservoir and Flathead River in Montana.
The initiative builds from the successful “Forest to Faucets” partnership the Forest Service reached with Denver Water, Colorado’s largest water utility, to share costs of mitigating wildfire risks and effects in Colorado.
More water pollution coverage here.