Frequently Asked Questions: Partnership with U.S. Forest Service for Watershed Management

  • What type of work will take place and where?

    The work will take place in the Upper South Platte River, South Platte River Headwaters, St. Vrain River, Colorado River Headwaters, and Blue River watersheds on U.S. Forest Service lands. These watersheds are the primary water supply source areas for Denver Water’s 1.4 million customers.

    During the first year, forest thinning projects took place on more than 6,000 acres of forest, mostly located in the Upper South Platte and Blue River watersheds near Strontia Springs and Dillon reservoirs. 

    In future years, forest thinning and other wildfire fuels reduction work will take place around and upstream of Strontia Springs, Gross, Antero, Eleven Mile Canyon and Cheesman reservoirs, and near the town of Winter Park. All of this work will reduce the risk of wildfires upstream of Denver Water’s reservoirs and other water delivery infrastructure.

  • Who is doing the work?

    The U.S. Forest Service will oversee and administer all of the work, with most of the on-the-ground work being conducted by private contractors.

  • When will the work begin?

    Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service signed a contract on Aug. 25, 2010, initiating the work. The U.S. Forest Service has begun planning and preparing the treatment units to get them ready for ground work. The U.S. Forest Service will select a contractor to begin work later this year or early next year. 

  • What problems does this work address?

    Forest restoration work, such as the thinning, clearing and creating fuel breaks, influence how quickly and intensely a wildfire can burn. Smaller, less severe fires also reduce the amount of soil erosion and other impacts to the watershed. Restoration will also help the forests become more resilient and resistant to future insect and disease epidemics, reduce wildfire risks for communities, and improve habitat for fish and wildlife species. More resilient forests also will be more adaptive to the impacts of a changing climate.

  • Who is paying for this and how much will it cost?

    Under this partnership, Denver Water plans to match the U.S. Forest Service’s $16.5 million investment, totaling $33 million toward restoration projects over a five-year period in priority watersheds critical to Denver’s water supply.

  • Why are you doing the work now?

    Denver Water has been conducting forest treatments on its lands for a decade, and the Colorado State Forest Service has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service, on a smaller scale, to treat adjacent lands. Recent watershed assessments have identified the highest impact areas within Denver Water’s water collection system if a wildfire were to occur.

    Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service have discussed forest health treatments on a large scale and have come to an agreement to accelerate these efforts in the areas of critical concern for Denver Water’s water supply. In addition, Denver Water is making a significant effort to regain capacity and water treatment operational flexibility for water quality. Denver Water is being proactive to protect this investment in the future. This effort protects wildlife and the environment from a catastrophic fire within these areas.

  • How were these "priority watersheds" identified?

    The priority watersheds — the Upper South Platte River, South Platte River Headwaters, St. Vrain River, Colorado River Headwaters and Blue River watersheds — are the primary water supply source areas for Denver Water’s 1.4 million customers. The Denver Water-funded treatments will be focused in specific “Zones of Concern” areas within these larger watersheds that were identified through an assessment that analyzed and ranked wildfire hazards, flooding or debris risks, soil erodibility and water uses. This methodology was developed in 2009 in a collaborative effort by Front Range water providers, the United States Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service, United States Geological Survey, United State Bureau of Land Management, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the United States Natural Resources Conservation Service. This has become the accepted methodology by all agencies to identify and prioritize “at risk” watersheds for hazard reduction treatments and other watershed protection measures.

  • What will be the cost to Denver Water ratepayers?

    In 2011, the average residential household will pay $1.65 in the course of a year ($0.14 per bill) related to this work. Over the course of five years, the average residential household will pay a total of $27 to cover the proposed cost of $16.5 million.

  • Will there be opportunities for public comment?

    Most of the projects included in this agreement have already completed the public comment period as part of the U.S. Forest Service’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. NEPA requires that potential impacts to the environment, including any impacts to soil, water, cultural or biological resources, be carefully analyzed and disclosed to the public. For more information on how to comment on any of the remaining projects, visit the U.S. Forest Service website’s Schedule of Proposed Actions.