Sept. 27, 2022

East Troublesome Aerial Mulching Operations Complete

The last of almost 50,000 drops of aerial wood mulch fell upon the East Troublesome Fire’s burn scar in late August, marking the conclusion of what had been a focal point in recovery efforts since the 2020 blaze devastated portions of Grand County. 

After beginning mulching operations last summer, this season’s aerial mulching operations altogether covered about 12,500 acres within key portions of fire-impacted watersheds. The wood mulch loads dropped on the burn scar – each weighing 3,000 to 5,000 pounds – will assist in the restoration of those treated areas. Wood mulch helps combat destructive erosion by holding burned soil in place, and by helping bring back vegetation that further sturdies the hill slopes.  

The 12,500 acres treated came at a cost of about $27 million, or $2,200 per acre. At such a price tag, a great deal of effort took place beforehand to determine which areas were the most critical to treat, in terms of preventing erosion and debris run-off that would most heavily impact private property and infrastructure. Among the many factors taken into consideration were potential impacts to the Colorado-Big Thompson Project's collections system (Willow Creek Reservoir, Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake, along with adjacent canals, pump plants and other structures), all of which sits either within or adjacent to the East Troublesome Fire’s 193,812-acre burn area.  

During the first rounds of mulching in 2021, about 2,500 acres of U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land and about 2,500 acres of private property were treated, courtesy of funding support from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program. The EWP program offers assistance to help local communities relieve imminent threats to life and property caused by wildfires and other natural disasters that might impair watersheds.    

In 2022, about 7,500 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and USFS lands were treated via funding agreements with those two agencies. 

In addition to support from BLM, USFS and NRCS, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) also contributed dollars to support both 2021 and 2022 efforts.  

This 3-minute video, featuring Northern Water’s Curtis Hartenstine and Kimberly Mihelich, provides a close look at the East Troublesome mulching operations that took place during the past two years. 

With mulch operations now complete, Northern Water is currently partnering with CWCB and Colorado State University to conduct post-mulching surveys that will help determine the effectiveness of the treatments. The data eventually compiled during these ongoing East Troublesome assessments is expected to provide some of the most detailed information to date regarding aerial mulching’s impacts on burn scars.

In addition to the post-mulching surveys, various other projects will remain underway in the East Troublesome burn area, including continued installation of debris booms and berm structures, watershed restoration work, and run-off and debris clean-ups, among other efforts.