Collaborative Seminar: Post-Fire Flooding and Recovery in the Upper Arkansas River Basin


Date: 2023/08/29

Author(s): Paklaian J.

Publication: Video Link


Fire impacts do not end when the flames are extinguished. Post-fire flooding from recent fires in the Arkansas River Basin in southern Colorado caused an estimated 2 trillion dollars in damages over the last 18 years. Our steep mountain environment poses several challenges to fire and flood recovery. These include: 1) steep terrain causes high-velocity flows that often carry damaging debris 2) Beetle-killed trees throughout the basin have created a large buildup of heavy fuels 3) Rural communities often do not have the resources for quick response or access to available grant funds. These, among other reasons, were part of why the Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative (ARWC) was created. We assist communities with locally-identified watershed issues, for economic, ecological, and social benefit. This includes water quality/quantity, forest health, post-fire mitigation, and collaborative development. ARWC puts water project money on the ground.

One post-fire case study is the Hayden Pass Fire in 2016. Although this fire burned over 16,000 acres, most of the damage to homes and property occurred two years later in 2018 during post-fire flooding events. There were a handful of important lessons learned from the multi-partner effort: How do we effectively put projects on the ground across multiple private landowners? How do we build trust? What tools do we use to help recovery for individuals but also the watershed? After flooding ceases, what are the next steps? When and where does restoration fit in? In 2023, we continue to aid in efforts that began with the Hayden Pass post-fire flooding recovery. This includes water quality monitoring downstream of the fire scar and upstream of the community of Can᷉on City, CO and planned restoration along Big Cottonwood Creek. Although we can’t plan on the severity or location of fires, we can conduct pre-fire mitigation and develop post-fire action plans to help our communities be resilient for the next wildfire.

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