Fri July 19, 2013

Obama Cabinet Members Highlight Wildfire Risks To Western Water Supply

Flash floods and muddy water in the Poudre River are becoming an all-too-familiar reality following last year’s High Park Fire.

Grace Hood reports for All Things Considered

 On Friday the Departments of Agriculture and Interior announced six pilot projects across Colorado and the West that will reduce the impact of wildfires to the water supply.

“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.

Forest Supervisor Glenn Casamassa with the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland said work is already underway.

“Our agreement was signed in 2012 and we began to work collaboratively to improve the health and resiliency of our forests, reduce the risk of wildfire to watersheds, preplan for a response and secure water delivery to a whole host of folks here in Northern Colorado,” said Cassamassa. 

The partnership is part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which seeks to outline a comprehensive approach to prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change.

The other states that will see projects include California, Montana, Idaho, Arizona and Washington.