Rebuilding Our Watersheds
Following the 2020 East Troublesome Fire, a multi-agency collaborative effort began to restore the region’s watersheds and protect local residents and property from future disasters. Northern Water and Grand County immediately began working with partners on watershed restoration and planning of projects to mitigate threats to life and property due to post-fire flood, sediment and debris.
The East Troublesome Fire moved fast, beginning on Oct. 14, 2020, northeast of Kremmling in the Arapaho National Forest. With high winds and low humidity in the following weeks, the fire swept through the communities of Granby, Grand Lake and others by the time it was fully contained on Nov. 30. With a final acreage of 193,812 acres, the fire raced over the Continental Divide and ended in the eastern boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Emergency Watershed Protection Program Implementation
In February 2021, the Grand County Board of Commissioners and the Northern Water Board of Directors agreed to be the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) sponsors for different geographical areas of East Troublesome Fire recovery efforts. Grand County and Northern Water entered into a memorandum of understanding with each other, as well as with the Colorado River District, Middle Park Conservation District and the Three Lakes Watershed Association. The EWP partners also collaborated with more than 40 other federal, state and local organizations, to ensure the most efficient and effective implementation of emergency watershed restoration recovery efforts in areas of Grand County affected by the East Troublesome Fire.
Following the fire and establishment of the EWP Program partnership, Grand County and Northern Water worked with NRCS to prepare damage survey reports of non-federal lands in the affected areas. Teams performed field assessments to identify potential post-fire hazards to life and property that may occur in the future, developed potential treatments to mitigate hazard risks and estimated treatment costs.
Utilizing the EWP Program
Managed by NRCS, the federal EWP Program implements watershed protection projects that mitigate risks to life and property caused by sudden watershed impairments such as post-fire flooding, sediment or debris. This program identifies projects that, if implemented, may prevent or minimize future loss. By federal law, all local projects that receive EWP funding must have a local sponsor to administer the program, which was filled by Grand County and Northern Water for the East Troublesome Fire.
EWP Project Funding and Allocation
As EWP Program sponsors, Grand County and Northern Water were responsible for 25 percent of the projects’ construction costs. NRCS provided the remaining 75 percent of construction costs, as well as additional funding for design and engineering of projects.2020 Post-Fire Watershed Restoration Process Improvement Report
Emergency Water Protection Program Projects Completed
From early 2021 through 2022, Northern Water and Grand County implemented more than $35 million in watershed restoration projects. Furthermore, the entities implemented over 15 different types of projects throughout affected areas of the East Troublesome Fire. These included:
- Installation of debris booms in Grand Lake and Willow Creek Reservoir to protect infrastructure from floating debris.
- 5,000 acres of aerial mulching to reduce potential hillslope erosion on burned soils.
- Construction of check structures in gullies to trap and store sediment mobilized from the hillslope and to prevent downcutting by increased peak flows.
- Removal of sediment along areas of State Highway 125 following precipitation events.
- Flood risk reduction projects to reduce impacts to private properties from postfire precipitation events.
- Completion of the Stillwater Berm to trap sediment and debris before entering Lake Granby.
- Road protection projects include increasing flow conveyance capacity, road surface armoring, and streambank/road embankment armoring and stabilization.
- Hillslope and gully erosion control.
Completed and Planned Projects Under U.S. Forest Service Participating Agreement
In 2022, Northern Water collaborated with the United States Forest Service (USFS) under a participating agreement to provide aerial mulching to areas damaged by the East Troublesome Fire. In the first year of the participating agreement, we mulched approximately 6,000 acres on USFS lands within the East Troublesome Fire burn area to reduce the potential of hillslope erosion in watersheds at risk. Mulching occurred in the Drowsy Water Creek, Stillwater Creek, Willow Creek and North Fork of the Colorado River watersheds.
Northern Water is continuing to collaborate with the USFS to identify, design and implement additional postfire watershed recovery projects including but not limited to installation of aquatic organism passage culverts, road stabilization, bank stabilization and stream restoration.
Completed and Planned Projects Under Bureau of Land Management Cooperative Agreement
In 2022, Northern Water worked in cooperation with the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under a cooperative agreement to provide aerial mulching to areas damaged by the East Troublesome Fire. In the first year of the cooperative agreement, we mulched approximately 1,800 acres on BLM lands within the East Troublesome Fire burn area to reduce the potential of hillslope erosion in watersheds at risk. Mulching occurred in the Drowsy Water Creek and Willow Creek watersheds.
Northern Water is continuing to collaborate with the BLM to identify, design and implement potential additional postfire watershed recovery projects.