Work underway to protect watersheds from aftermath of East Troublesome Fire
Recreators in the Willow Creek Reservoir or Trail Mountain area recently may have noticed the quiet forest interrupted by the chopping sound of helicopters up above as they drop mulch and seed over the East Troublesome burn scar.
The aerial work is part of the $35 million in Emergency Watershed Protection projects that were identified after the East Troublesome Fire. During an update on the projects on July 26, Northern Water Director of Environmental Services Esther Vincent said efforts are underway to protect watersheds from the negative consequences of a burned landscape.
The EWP program, run by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, focuses exclusively on private land, which makes up about 10% of the burn scar, and helping property owners mitigate flood risk and restore the natural environment. So far, about $16 million of the identified projects have received funding from the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Northern Water and Grand County.
“Strategically, these (lands) are important because they are on the lower end of the watershed, just upstream of the water bodies that will receive the inputs,” Vincent said.
Northern Water and Grand County are co-sponsors of the EWP projects, funding 25% of the work, with the two entities splitting the area of the East Troublesome burn scar. Northern Water is responsible for the eastern part of the scar and Grand County is responsible for the western portion of the burn.
Northern Water started by installing debris booms in Grand Lake and Willow Creek Reservoir then moved to aerial mulching and seeding. Northern Water has around 180 contracts with private property owners for seeding and mulching.
“The biggest bang for our buck, and what we could do to make a difference as soon as possible … was to do seeding and mulching,” Northern Water representative Kyle Whitaker said. “It’s something we can do on a large scale, it would benefit a lot of different property owners and the system as a whole if we could keep some of that sediment on the hillside.”
Moving forward soon will be woody debris removal in floodplain areas, sediment basins in waterways, hillslope erosion measures and flood protection around structures. Whitaker said the goal is to get most of the work done by winter.
“I know you share the same frustration that all of us share and that’s that this should move faster, we want it to move faster, it needs to move faster, but at the end of the day this is a fast moving government program,” he said.
Grand County is not as far along in projects on the western side of the burn area, with most in the design process. Grand County Emergency Manager Joel Cochran said the county has helped install rain gauges across the scar, which provide real time rain data every 15 minutes to track flood risk.
“We have so much more accuracy in the forecast now,” Cochran said.
Whitaker believed the remaining funding needed for watershed projects would be available in the near future.
“I think there’s going to be enough to fund everything though we have not agreed to take that money yet … but hopefully that’s coming and we can move forward with all of the costs,” he said.
In the meantime, Northern Water and Grand County are working on an online map of the watershed projects that will include information on the timeline of the work and what stage of work each project is in.
“It’s preliminary, but we’re working on a map that will have updates on where we’re at with the different projects,” a Northern Water representative said.
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