Progress made in large mitigation project in hopes of protecting Colorado Springs water source

Courtesy of Colorado State Forest Service
A mitigation project in Teller County reduces risk of catastrophic wildfire and improves resilience of Colorado’s forests.

Mitigation work has been completed on close to one-third of the planned acreage in a large project that aims to help protect a source of drinking water for Colorado Springs. The more than 300-acre operation is just northwest of North Catamount Reservoir, one of 25 water sources for the city. 

Crews began in October, grinding up fuels or mulching crowded and overgrown areas in the forest with mechanized equipment.

The work is a joint venture between the Colorado State Forest Service, Colorado Springs Utilities, the U.S. Forest Service Pikes Peak Ranger District, and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. 

Mike Till, a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service Woodland Park District, said he's noticed a difference with all the agencies involved.

"It really does help and it seems to be headed in a different direction than it has been in the past of people understanding how important water is on the front range," Till said. 

Till said mitigating the forest near the reservoir is crucial because in the event of a wildfire, any remaining debris like plants, bushes, and trees would likely drain into the reservoir and contaminate the drinking water. 

"By removing the biomass and creating this space around the source water, it creates a kind of speed bump or strategic feature on the landscape that can be used if - and when - a wildfire does come through," he said.

The $1 million project is funded by a grant from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program. The agency is the result of state legislation passed in 2021 that created a fund to better manage forests and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. 

Work will move on to another project during the spring. Till said deep snow and the needs of wildlife can slow down efforts, including when elk are calving in the area. Work will resume in June. 

He expects the project will wrap up later this year.