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Watershed Protection & Management

Source Water Protection

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has developed a source water assessment and protection plan for Colorado. In the assessment phase, they determined where each public water system's source water comes from, what contaminant sources potentially threaten it and how susceptible each water source is to potential contamination. They then work with the public water supply systems to educate them on how to interpret the assessment results and begin the transition into the protection planning process.

Denver Water's efforts include the Upper South Platte and Fraser watersheds.

Source Water Protection for the Upper South Platte

Denver Water’s formal Upper South Platte Watershed Source Water Protection Planning process was initiated in 2013. The plan was developed as part of a collaborative stakeholder process convened by Denver Water, facilitated by the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, and funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment through the Colorado Source Water Assessment and Protection program. The planning process and final plan are designed to provide municipal water providers, local governments and the public with information about drinking water, as well as providing a way for water providers and community members to get involved in protecting the quality of their drinking water. The program encourages community-based protection and preventive management strategies to ensure public drinking water resources are kept safe from future contamination.

Best management practices were developed by the steering committee and subject matter experts and are being implemented to protect against contamination from chemical spills, inadequate septic systems, nutrients from agriculture, mine contamination, oil and gas development, and forest fires. This plan for the Upper South Platte Watershed serves as a guide and template for the development of plans in other watersheds upon which Denver Water’s customers depend.

This map was created by the Denver Water Planning Division as a support tool for the source water and watershed protection programs. Within this map you can turn on and off different layers, which identify key watershed features such as major bodies of water, the emergency response contact zones, potential sources of contamination (landfills, mines, etc.), wildfire burn areas and water quality data. Once a layer is activated, you can click on a feature in the map for more information and external links.

Related PDFs

Source Water Protection for the Fraser

The Fraser River Source Water Protection Partnership (FRSWPP) was established in 2015 to provide a framework for public water systems in the Fraser River Valley to collaborate on the protection of their drinking water sources from potential sources of contamination. The FRSWPP is composed of eight public water systems: Denver Water; the town of Fraser; the town of Granby; the Granby Silver Creek Water and Wastewater Authority; the Grand County Water and Sanitation District #1; the Moraine Park Water System; the Winter Park Water and Sanitation District; and the Winter Park Ranch Water and Sanitation District.

Planning meetings are being held on a monthly basis. These meetings are focused on: delineating source water protection areas for each of the eight public water systems; inventorying potential sources of contamination; and considering/incorporating feedback from experts on a range of topics. Denver Water anticipates that the Fraser River Source Water Protection Plan will be finalized in 2017.

Watershed Management: From Forests to Faucets

As the water provider to 1.4 million people in the Denver metropolitan area, Denver Water directly depends on healthy forests and watersheds. Denver Water’s key collection and delivery infrastructure receives water from snowpack and streams on U.S. Forest Service lands.

Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service have a shared interest in improving forest and watershed conditions to protect water supplies and water quality, as well as to continue providing other public benefits, such as wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities. The U.S. Forest Service administers more than 14.5 million acres of National Forest System lands in Colorado, and nearly 90 percent of these lands are located in watersheds that contribute to public water supplies. So the two organizations work together to benefit From Forests to Faucets, a watershed management partnership.

What is the From Forests to Faucets partnership?

The From Forests to Faucets partnership began in 2010 between Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service — Rocky Mountain Region as a response to the costly impacts from a series of wildfires, including the 1996 Buffalo Creek and 2002 Hayman wildfires, which required expenditures exceeding $27 million for restoration and repairs to Denver Water’s collection system. More than 48,000 acres of National Forest System lands have been treated so far accomplishing important fuels reduction, restoration and prevention activities. That original five year, $33 million memorandum of understanding expired on Aug. 11, 2015.

A renewed and expanded five year, $33 million partnership program was signed on Feb. 27, 2017. The new memorandum includes the Colorado State Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service as partners to emphasize the importance of watershed and forest health across ownerships.

The goal of the new program is to treat approximately 40,000 acres within the critical watersheds and to maintain, as needed, the 48,000 acres previously treated under the original memorandum.

What issues are driving this partnership?

Wildfires and insect infestations have highlighted the need to take aggressive steps to protect forest health. Forest treatments, such as thinning, clearing, and creating fuel breaks, influence how quickly and intensely a wildfire can burn. Treatments can slow the spread of a fire, allowing firefighters to stop a fire before it reaches homes, power lines or valuable watersheds. Smaller, less severe fires also reduce the amount of soil erosion and other impacts to the watershed.


The 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire burned 11,900 acres. In 2002, the Hayman Fire charred another 138,000 acres of land. The combination of these two fires, followed by significant rainstorms, resulted in more than 1 million cubic yards of sediment accumulating in Strontia Springs Reservoir. Prior to the wildfires, the reservoir had approximately 250,000 cubic yards of sediment, which had been accumulating since 1983 when the dam was completed. Increased sediment creates operational challenges, causes water quality issues and clogs treatment plants.

Following the Buffalo Creek and Hayman fires, Denver Water has spent more than $27 million on water quality treatment, sediment and debris removal, reclamation techniques, and infrastructure projects. Hayman Fire suppression costs for state and federal agencies were more than $42 million. In addition, the U.S. Forest Service has spent $37 million on restoration and stabilization efforts. The Hayman Fire led to a loss of 600 structures, including 132 residences. Total insured private property losses were estimated at $38.7 million. Loss of wildlife habitat, esthetics, tourism and recreation values are invaluable.

Insect Infestation

The mountain pine beetles have affected 3 million acres of land in Colorado since the first sign of outbreak in 1996. Essential water supplies for millions of people could be affected by the increased risk of fire. The heart of the epidemic in Colorado and Wyoming contains the headwaters for rivers that supply water to 13 Western states.

What type of work will take place and where?

More than 48,000 acres of National Forest System lands have been treated so far accomplishing important fuels reduction, restoration and prevention activities, including areas of the South Platte, St. Vrain, Colorado River and Blue River watersheds.

Locations for forest restoration and wildfire fuels reduction projects under the new memorandum of understanding include watersheds for Dillon, Strontia Springs, Gross, Antero, Eleven Mile Canyon, Cheesman and Williams Fork reservoirs. The projects will reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires upstream of Denver Water’s reservoirs and other water delivery infrastructure.

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. The Colorado State Forest Service will manage all of the operations and work on private lands.

How were the 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 on federal lands 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 States 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.

Action plans will also be developed by CSFS and NRCS each year to identify private properties that fit within priority watersheds for Denver Water.

What problems will this work address, and why do it now?

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.

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.

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

Denver Water will invest $16.5 million in forest and watershed health projects within Denver Water’s critical watersheds. The U.S. Forest Service will receive $12.5 million of the total Denver Water investment and the Colorado State Forest Service will receive $4 million. Denver Water’s funding will be matched dollar for dollar by each agency for a total value of the partnership of approximately $33 million. Additionally, the Natural Resources Conservation Service is pledging $400,000 a year for forest projects in Denver Water’s Zones of Concern.