Local governments are contributing money to forest health

Breckenridge fire July 2017. Photo credit: Allen Best

From US News and World Report (Alan Neuhauser):

Water districts in Denver and Santa Fe, New Mexico, plus the town of Ashland, Oregon, meanwhile, are helping fund tree-thinning and other fire-prevention measures in crucial watersheds that supply their water systems.

“There’s always that feeling, even at our municipal government, that we pay our taxes, why aren’t you already doing this?” says Alan Hook, manager of the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Program. “The community realized how much these fires cost and how much the Forest Service is pouring into [fire] suppression costs. … If we lose this source of supply, we could be in dire straits in the near future.”

Denver Water, for example, owns only 3 percent of the watershed it’s protecting, while the Forest Service holds 54 percent, says Christina Burri, watershed scientist at the utility. But the utility nonetheless agreed to put up $33 million in a 50-50 partnership with the agency, a decision in part prompted by memories of fires in 1996 and 2002 that dumped scorched sediment into water district reservoirs and forced $28 million in repairs and remediation.

“That motivated Denver Water to invest in forest health, to create a healthy forest so we can be proactive against these costs,” Burri says. “It’s important for us to be able to partner to be able to get access to work on these lands and create a healthier condition in these forests, because that’s the source of our water.”

The towns and water districts maintain that the new expenses can easily be absorbed by their budgets. The funds being put forward by Denver Water, for example, account for 1 percent of the utility’s budget overall.

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