Local watershed group tests hydro-mulching technique to treat burn scars | SkyHiNews.com

Local watershed group tests hydro-mulching technique to treat burn scars

Andrew Miller
Upper Colorado River Watershed Group
Mulching operations last week in Grand County
Geoff Elliot, Grand Environmental Services/Courtesy Photo

The Grand County-based Upper Colorado River Watershed Group continues to search for landscape scale solutions to address immense environmental problems at least partially created by a combination of global climate change and increasing levels of water diversion. On Oct. 13, the group tested one possible large-scale solution to restoring the more than 300 square mile East Troublesome Fire burn scar on a small scale on the west side of the Grand Lake Golf Course.

Hydro mulch is a green-colored coating applied by fire hose-type sprayers, it’s often used on ground that has been exposed after road construction. This same technique, applied from the same air tankers and helicopters used to fight wildfires, might offer a scaled approach to restore blackened fire scars all over the West. As a test of this concept, the Upper Colorado River Watershed Group hydro mulched test plots on a burned area near the course. The group used funds from a Colorado Department of Health and Environment grant for the experimental treatment.

Grand Environmental Services employee Adam Roth also helped concoct a hydro mulch mix including mycelium supplied by Boulder Mushroom. Mycelium is the below-ground “root” structure of a fungus, and it can help tie the soil together to prevent erosion. This mixture might help reduce the number of landslides which continue to bedevil the Colorado Department of Transportation, regularly closing Willow Creek Pass and Interstate 70 through the Glenwood Canyon.

Ryan Moser brought his hydro mulch rig to Grand County from Denver to spray areas by the North Fork of the Colorado River. The health department grant money was awarded in hopes the Upper Colorado River Watershed Group could help decrease sediment loads in the river and possibly improve the increasingly poor water quality in the shallow Shadow Mountain Reservoir. Moser left nitrogen fertilizer out of the mix and the watershed group installed erosion control rice logs to further protect the river.

Other health department-funded burn area projects on private lands are being implemented by the watershed group, using designs provided by Geoff Elliot’s Grand Environmental Service. These include fenced exclosures to keep deer and other ungulates from browsing new willow growth. Field observations show previous wetlands may not recover because some areas were stressed before the fire by already depleted ground water levels, likely caused by climate change and exacerbated in some areas by water diversion.

One property owner along a former North Fork wetland now shuts her windows on windy days to keep fine black dust from a former wetland out of the house.

Next year’s observations of the sprayed area may help determine possible mulch formulations to help fire areas recover.

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