That’s the sound of what we may lose by not paying attention now to the threat to our watersheds…and, it is not just clean drinking water. Colorado’s watersheds have provided generations of community members with clean water, abundant wildlife, inspiring places for recreation, healthy forests, locally grown food, and supported water-intensive industries, such as breweries. But, Colorado’s watersheds are threatened.
- Wildfires are occurring at greater intensities and on larger scales.
- The health of our streams and rivers are suffering.
- Colorado’s population is expected to double in the next 40 years.
- Water supplies are limited, and demands are increasing.
- Funding to address these issues is limited.
What is being done to address the threat to Colorado’s watersheds?
In 2013, Peaks to People Water Fund formed to proactively address the growing risk of severe wildfires that threaten our streams and rivers. Peaks to People created an innovative new mechanism—a watershed investment fund. Our unique watershed fund connects donors concerned about Colorado’s water quality with land stewards interested in managing their land to ensure forest health and water safety. Our vision, mission and approach are focused on mitigating wildfire risks in order to improve forest health, enhance water quality and quantity and ensure businesses that rely heavily on clean and available water can prosper and thrive.
Peaks to People and the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute have developed a Watershed Investment Tool (WIT) to determine the type and location of forest health treatments in the watersheds, so we can ensure that funds are put towards the greatest potential outcomes. The tool also allows us to analyze the results of each project to inform future decisions.
We have completed work at several demonstration sites to assist with initial data gathering, testing and process development. Each site was monitored before and after the treatment to accurately measure the results. Monitoring results showed the forest treatments enhanced forest resilience to wildfire and reduced the impacts of sediments entering waterways within the management areas.
Working together we all win.
Water utilities and other stakeholders throughout the region are becoming aware of our WIT tool and its potential benefits for forest and watershed management. In addition to several direct requests for CFRI’s services to develop the tool for others, we have had inquiries from groups such as the World Resources Institute and Blue Forest Conservation about applying our tool across a broader region of the Western USA.
Fostering collaboration among local conservation organizations, public agencies and community stakeholders is the most important step in the water fund process. To that end, Peaks to People and Sitka Technology Group have developed a Watershed Health Outcomes Tracker. This valuable tool enables implementers, landowners and funders to track proposed and active projects designed to improve forest health and protect water in Northern Colorado. Equally important, it will allow citizens to see the benefits of all the work that is being done by the conservation community to restore our forests and protect water supplies.
Colorado – A wake-up call!
In June 2012, when the High Park fire burned nearly 90,000 acres west of Fort Collins, our drinking water was impacted by sedimentation from the fire, affecting communities and businesses that depend on clean water. The fire also caused over $113 million in insured losses, millions more in fire suppression and disaster relief costs, and impacts to commerce and tourism.
By working together to protect the health of watersheds, we can ensure that the natural resources our communities rely upon will remain healthy, vibrant, and economically productive for decades to come. Peaks to People Water Fund, hundreds of businesses and organizations, and thousands of Coloradans are paying attention and acting now. Are you?