Arkansas Basin Roundtable hopes to score $865,000 to launch the Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A plan to coordinate efforts to prevent and respond to large burns in watersheds is spreading like, well, wildfire.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable last week agreed to ask the Colorado Water Conservation Board for $265,000 toward an $821,000 plan to launch the Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative.

The funding includes three projects designed to reduce wildfire risk in separate parts of the Arkansas River watershed.

Watershed protection is crucial to protecting water supplies, since fires destroy plants, ruin the ability of soil to absorb water and increase silt or debris during fierce runoffs.

“The Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative started in response to the catastrophic wildfires of 2012-13,” said Mark Shea, a Colorado Springs Utilities employee who co-chairs the group.

Those fires included the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires near Colorado Springs, the East Peak Fire near La Veta and the Royal Gorge Fire near Canon City, as well as many smaller fires.

Earlier, there had been grassland fires on the Eastern Plains during the prolonged drought of the last few years.

At the December roundtable meeting, Shea presented the case for coordinating wildfire response efforts throughout the entire Arkansas River basin to control fires.

Since then, a full package of how the group would function has been prepared.

“We’re planning to have a meeting in February to get folks started talking,” said Carol Ekarius, executive director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte.

The projects that would be funded by the state grant include mitigation in the Purgatoire, Cucharas and Tennessee Creek watersheds. They total about $110,000 of the state grant money, as well as $308,000 in matching funds from other sources.

The rest of the funding will go toward organization, data collection, strategic planning and public outreach and education.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

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