When wildfires rage across the landscape, they don’t just threaten homes, they pollute clean drinking water.

Watershed recovery
Work on South Platte River watershed three years after major wildfire. Photo: Courtesy of Denver Water.

Catastrophic wildfires in 1996 and 2002 burned hundreds of thousands of acres in Colorado. Christina Burri of Denver Water says those fires dumped millions of tons of ash into reservoirs. They also destroyed all the vegetation, and with nothing to hold the soil in place.

Burri: “Whenever there was a rainfall event, all those soils dumped into our reservoirs.”

To restore the forest and prevent the same thing from happening again, Denver Water created the From Forests to Faucets partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.

Christina Burri
Christina Burri, environmental scientist at Denver Water.

To stop sediment from washing into reservoirs, the partnership is now replanting trees in the burned areas.

In other areas, the partnership is thinning trees and shrubs to remove some of the fuel that can cause smaller fires to turn into catastrophic blazes.

Burri: “We’re not trying to prevent wildfires. We’re trying to prevent catastrophic wildfires that would cause water quality issues in our streams and our reservoirs.”

Thinning will also help the remaining trees grow stronger and better able to survive future wildfires.

Burri says the partnership works because healthy forests and clean water benefit everyone.

Reporting credit: Justyna Bicz/ChavoBart Digital Media.

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Diana Madson

Diana Madson contributed regularly to Yale Climate Connections from 2014 to 2021. She enjoys exploring U.S.-based stories about unexpected and innovative solutions to climate change. In addition to her...