Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) staff has been directed to implement Senate Bill 21-240, also known as Wildfire Ready Watersheds. Signed by Governor Polis in June 2021, the legislation directed $30 million to CWCB to assess the susceptibility of Colorado’s water resources, communities, and critical infrastructure to post-wildfire impacts and advance a framework for communities to plan and implement mitigation strategies to minimize these impacts – before wildfires occur.
The bill states that the funding should be used for “watershed restoration and flood mitigation grants to restore, mitigate, and protect stream channels and riparian areas susceptible to flood hazards and sediment erosion and deposition after wildfire.” The bill further states, “the Board shall expend up to five hundred thousand dollars by December 31, 2022 for a statewide watershed analysis to investigate susceptibility of life, safety, infrastructure and water supplies to wildfire impacts.”
The study will:
- Define and identify post-wildfire hazards that threaten life safety, property, infrastructure, and water supplies.
- Identify the elements of an effective education and communication program that relays the findings, action items, and tools of the assessment.
- Encourage the use of planning and land management actions to protect the health and resilience of watersheds, wetlands, and stream corridors as a strategy to reduce susceptibility to hazards following wildfires.
- Advance a watershed and landscape scale approach to planning and recovery.
Wildfire Ready Watersheds will have a two-part focus: a statewide susceptibility analysis and the development of a framework that communities can use to perform watershed scale planning to address post fire hazards. The susceptibility analysis will be phased as data collection, data development, analysis, mapping, and reporting. This effort will rely on existing statewide datasets for wildfire risk, critical water supplies, populations at risk, and other infrastructure layers. The identification of post fire hazards using a combination of existing hazard mapping, geologic and topographic data, and other related information to determine potential impacts on values at risk will be evaluated and mapped. Staff will employ a targeted approach to collaboration to identify datasets and other relevant information.
The framework will further describe and provide guidance on how to refine the susceptibility evaluations for local communities to utilize at watershed scales. It will serve as a guide for best planning practices in advance of a wildfire and will also support post-fire mitigation strategies. This includes data collection, permitting and compliance, stakeholder development, engineering/modeling, design, and construction. Design and construction will include project types that can be implemented before and after wildfire. Most projects implemented after a fire are for immediate protection of life, property, and water supplies. Projects constructed before fire provide the same or similar protections while also addressing multiple objectives in watershed health and water supply protection. Regardless of the timing, most implementation strategies will involve a mosaic of different project types employed across the wildfire risk (or burned) landscape.