DENVER — Over the next five years, Denver Water, the U.S. Forest Service – Rocky Mountain Region, Colorado State Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service will invest $33 million in forest restoration projects to treat more than 40,000 acres within Denver Water’s critical watersheds.

Cheesman Reservoir during drought conditions

Under the From Forests to Faucets partnership, the U.S. Forest Service – Rocky Mountain Region has been working with Denver Water since 2010 to implement forest and watershed health projects.

The goal is to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires and restore forests impacted by wildfires surrounding reservoirs, as well as minimize erosion and sedimentation in reservoirs. More than 48,000 acres of National Forest System lands have been treated so far with fuels reduction, restoration and prevention activities.

“The U.S. Forest Service commends Denver Water for their continued commitment to watershed health, and we welcome the Colorado State Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to this trendsetting partnership,” said Brian Ferebee, U.S. Forest Service regional forester. “About 60 million Americans rely on drinking water that originates on the national forests and grasslands. Together we will proactively work to conserve, maintain and restore watersheds, ecosystems and the services they provide Americans.”

The next phase of the program will include the CSFS and NRCS as additional partners to emphasize the importance of watershed and forest health on private lands.

“We’ve seen tremendous results during the first five years of this partnership, and we are excited to now expand the program to include private lands,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO. “As the water provider to more than 1.4 million people in the Denver metropolitan area, Denver Water directly depends on healthy forests that make up its watersheds.”

Healthy forests & clean water

Under the 2017-2021 program, 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 $11.5 million of the total Denver Water investment. The CSFS will receive $3 million and the NRCS will receive $2 million. Each entity will also match Denver Water’s funding, for a total of $33 million.

“The link between healthy forests and clean water is nowhere more evident than in Colorado, where we provide water for 19 states,” said Mike Lester, state forester and director of the Colorado State Forest Service. “That is why this partnership is so critical to providing both resilient forests and sustainable water supplies for residents of Metro Denver and the Front Range.”

“Enhancing the health and viability of forest lands is a top priority for NRCS,” said Clint Evans, NRCS state conservationist in Colorado. “We’ve supported this project from its inception and we’re pleased to see how far it’s come and how many additional partners have joined forces to continue its success.”

Locations for forest restoration and wildfire fuels reduction projects 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 From Forests to Faucets partnership began in 2010 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 $27.7 million for restoration and repairs to Denver Water’s collection system.