Innovative partnership to protect Colorado Springs water supply

Mike Stearly
Rocky Mountain Region, U.S. Forest Service
April 10th, 2013 at 8:45PM

The U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Springs (Colo.) Utilities recently announced a new 5-year partnership to help restore the areas burned by the devastating Waldo Canyon Fire that tore through part of the west side of the city in 2012.

Through the partnership, Colorado Springs Utilities will invest approximately $6 million in support of the watershed health goals and activities over the next five to 10 years. The Forest Service will complete on-the-ground project planning and treatment in areas that complement Colorado Springs Utilities investments.

During an event at the Flying W Ranch – a 60-year-old tourist attraction destroyed in the fire – Harris Sherman, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, met with Congressman Doug Lamborn, U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennett, and representatives from the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, El Paso County Commissioners and the city of Colorado Springs.

“This partnership will ensure improved water quality for the residents of Colorado Springs,” Sherman said. “Collaborating on watershed restoration will have a long-term positive impact on forest and watershed health and allows us to accomplish more on-the-ground projects.”

The innovative partnership between Colorado Springs Utilities and the Forest Service is preserving and protecting crucial watersheds that provide water to Colorado’s second largest city. The signing of the agreement establishes work to reduce wildfire risk, restore burned areas, minimize erosion impacts and coordinates pre-suppression wildland fire efforts.

“This agreement … solidifies a critical partnership with the Forest Service, a partnership that has benefited our water supply and community for decades," said Gary Bostrom, chief water services officer for Colorado Springs Utilities. “Our ongoing relationship with the Forest Service will help us channel customer rate dollars in the most efficient way possible to protect our most vital resource and the forest that surrounds it.”

The human-caused Waldo Canyon fire started June 23, 2012, and left a scar of more than 18,000 acres, cost millions of dollars to fight, caused the evacuation of 32,000 people, destroyed 346 homes and killed two people. The fire has since been labeled the largest, most expensive and destructive fire in Colorado’s history.