Sean Chambers, Director of Greeley Water and Sewer Department
The largest fire in Colorado history, the Cameron Peak Fire, burned last year in the watersheds that supply water to the City of Greeley and communities across Northern Colorado. Now, Northern Colorado communities have taken an all-hands approach to mitigating the resulting watershed damage.
The Greeley City Council and the Greeley Water and Sewer Board have signed off on an intergovernmental cost- and work-sharing agreement among Greeley, the City of Fort Collins and Larimer County to try to soften the blow of post-fire impacts. Those impacts include the expected release of ash and debris from the burn scar following snowmelt and rainfall that can degrade the quality of water supplies. In November 2020, Greeley City Council declared a disaster emergency related to the watershed damages from the Cameron Peak fire.
Of the more than 200,000 acres burned by the Cameron Peak fire, Greeley and partner agencies seek to immediately mitigate damages to at least 10,000 acres, most of which lies of U.S. Forest Service lands. The estimated cost to repair and fix this damage is over $35 million. So far, the partnering agencies are working with a small budget to do what they can to stabilize hillslopes, build erosion controls, stabilize stream channels, and protect infrastructure. All of the agencies continue to seek state and federal funding to help with the project.
“Mitigation is urgently needed to prevent flooding and erosion from the burn area, but funding to do so is severely limited. We are seeking support at all levels – federal, state, and local – to protect our water supply in the coming years,” said Adam Jokerst, deputy director for Water Resources at the Greeley Water and Sewer Department. Water officials urged that the sooner mitigation takes hold, the bigger the long-term impact will be.
Mitigation can begin as soon as the snow melts in mid-June, which means the city is actively working to ensure all the pieces are in place.
“While mitigation needs are urgent, the recovery effort will be a multi-year project requiring significant funding and work coordinated with federal agencies,” said Sean Chambers, director of the Greeley Water and Sewer Department. These pieces include completing design and mapping and securing multiple contractors.
Water officials monitor source water quality as it flows downstream. Greeley strategically draws water from several sources, and water officials have the ability to change water sources when river water quality degrades. During periods of poor water quality on the Poudre River, for example, the city can turn to its Colorado-Big Thompson water stored in Horsetooth Reservoir west of Fort Collins.