From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Just 15 years ago, it was unthinkable that the Colorado Water Conservation Board would be in the fire business. But the wildfires that have broken out since 2000 have been larger and more destructive than any in Colorado’s history — including their impact on watersheds the state’s 5 million people depend on.
“Prior to 2000, the largest fire had been 26,000 acres, and that happened in 1879,” said Kevin Houck, watershed and flood protection chief for the CWCB said Thursday at the board’s Pueblo meeting.
Since then, the state has witnessed the Hayman Fire (southwest of Denver), 2002, 137,760 acres; West Fork complex (near Creede) 2013, 110,405 acres; and High Park (west of Fort Collins) 2012, 87,284 acres.
In fact, 28 of the 30 largest wildfires have occurred since 2000.
In addition, 14 of the 15 most destructive fires have been since 2000. These include the Black Forest Fire (509 homes) in 2013, near Colorado Springs; Waldo Canyon (346 homes) in 2012, near Colorado Springs; the High Park Fire (259 homes); and the Fourmile Fire (169 homes) in 2010 north of Boulder.
Many of the fires impact watersheds, including Waldo Canyon, which sent sheets of mud into Fountain Creek last September, and the Hayman Fire, which has caused debris flows for years into Denver and Aurora reservoirs.
Houck praised Canon City officials for the quick response to the aftermath of the Royal Gorge Fire. Last year, the CWCB provided a $485,000 grant for mulching and planting to reduce the impact on Canon City’s water supply.
“The city only used about two-thirds of the grant, so we may get some back,” Houck said. He provided a list of more than $1 million in watershed restoration grants just to deal with fires in 2012-13.
After the East Peak Fire, Huerfano County continues to worry about dry conditions.
Tom Spezze, of the Rio Grand Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team, gave the board an update on its actives to deal with water quality issues associated with the West Fork Complex and to prevent future fires.
Such fires not only affect water supply, but local economies as well, Spezze said. Creede lost 75 percent of its tourism revenue last July and was 40 percent off for the year.
The fire has left uncertainty in a private tourist camp that operates on federal land near a canyon now prone to flooding.
But the debris and silt after a fire is immense.
“We’re not sure what’s going to happen,” Spezze said. “The debris in one year filled Humphreys Reservoir. It had just been dredged for 25 years’ worth — all for naught.”