Community Foundation NoCoFires fund grant committee awards $670,000

In response to the devastating impact of Colorado’s largest wildfire – the Cameron Peak Fire – the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado established the NoCoFires fund last year. The fund’s purpose is to assist with raising money to mitigate the fires’ negative consequences of Northern Colorado’s two primary watersheds – the Poudre and the Big Thompson rivers. Hundreds of donors contributed nearly $750,000 to the cause!

On June 23, 2021 the NoCoFires grant committee announced awards totaling $670,000 to three nonprofit organizations working together to protect river health, water supply, and community safety: Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed, and Wildlands Restoration Volunteers. Each of these nonprofits is actively working to support watershed recovery. Grants will help them add staff to build capacity and pay for vital materials required for watershed mitigation and environmental restoration.

These grants respond to a significant need caused by last year’s Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires, the two largest wildfires in state history, which together burned more than 400,000 acres. Large wildfires such as these can negatively impact water quality and river health while the loss of tree canopy and increased surface runoff and erosion may cause debris flows and flooding. Mitigation experts estimate tens of millions of dollars will be needed to fully address the impacts to wildlife, recreation, agriculture, and drinking water supplies for approximately one million people.

NoCo fires collage shows floodwaters, forest rangers cutting burnt logs and trees burned above a lake

Facts:

  • Core collaborators include Coalition for the Poudre Watershed, Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, Greeley Water, Larimer County, Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Colorado State University, Colorado Forest Restoration Institute, Colorado State Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, and local water providers.
  • The Northern Front Range’s economy depends heavily on the availability of clean, reliable water – something that only a restored and healthy watershed can support.
  • Higher runoff from burned areas will increase the risk of flooding and potential associated loss of life, damage to infrastructure, and impacts to downstream communities.
  • The fire damage will increase the amount of sediment and ash in the river between 10 and 50 times the natural amount.
  • Erosion may cause significant impacts to water quality, water supply reliability, and water supply infrastructure for years to come.
  • Post-fire mitigation – such as mulching and sediment traps can reduce flooding and prevent erosion – but is expensive. With this grant funding, the Coalition for Poudre Watershed will purchase mulch for use by the contractor the City of Greeley is procuring.

Source: City of Greeley and Community Foundation of Northern Colorado research

Community Foundation launches initiative to restore watersheds

Bohemian Foundation to match first $250,000 for NoCoFires Fund

Everyone loves a comeback story.

Northern Colorado’s two primary watersheds – the Poudre and the Big Thompson – each face a long, hard recovery from the damage caused by our recent catastrophic wildfires.

After giving careful consideration to the funding needs of our community, and with the support of the Bohemian Foundation, the Foundation launched the NoCoFires Fund to get our vital rivers and streams back to sustaining wildlife, recreation, and agriculture, as well as supplying high-quality drinking water for 1,000,000 people.

Here’s how it will work:

  • Bohemian Foundation has pledged to match the first $250,000 in donations made to the NoCoFires Fund.
  • Using that initial funding, the Community Foundation will leverage additional grant dollars from private, state, and federal sources. 
  • The long-term goal for the NoCoFires Fund is to raise $1 million for continuing watershed restoration needs.

Early estimates show that mitigation in the Poudre River watershed alone will cost around $50 million. Cameron Peak and East Troublesome Fire, the two largest wildfires in Colorado history, together burned over 400,000 acres that impact both Poudre and Big Thompson watersheds and communities downstream.

It’s time to focus on mitigation, address the critical needs, and begin long-term recovery work. The Community Foundation has the track record, leadership, and relationships to positively impact Northern Colorado. The Community Foundation will not charge an administrative fee on this fund.

When fire burns…

The unusually high temperatures remove the protective vegetative cover from the landscape, making the burn area more vulnerable to severe flooding and erosion. After the 2012 High Park Fire that burned over 87,000 acres in the Poudre River watershed, we subsequently experienced the 2013 Colorado floods – the costliest natural disaster in Colorado history. In the wake of the recent wildfires, experts believe that the greatest damage to the affected watersheds will occur over the next 10 precipitation events, and the most crucial preventative efforts must happen by July 4, 2021.

“The grant committee has done an incredible job identifying nonprofits and projects that will benefit the dozen communities in the burn scar and the hundreds of thousands of residents who depend upon the Poudre and Big Thompson rivers for their water. We’re honored to provide funding, before federal dollars become available, so these groups can get to work on reducing the fire’s impact before the first monsoon season. Heartfelt thanks to those individuals, businesses, and foundations who contributed.”

Ella Fahrlander

Community Foundation, chief engagement officer

Cameron Peak Fire impacts

1,000+ river miles
124+ trail miles
40,000+ acres of designated Wilderness Areas
32 miles of Wild and Scenic River corridor
Three watersheds
Five reservoirs that store and deliver water to the Front Range for agriculture and drinking water
16 mountain communities and neighborhoods in the burn area or immediately adjacent to it
185,000 irrigated acres rely on the Poudre River

Data source: Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed

“The Cameron Peak wildfire burned some of our most pristine watersheds that will require both emergency protection and long-term restoration to protect our water supplies, mitigate flood threats, and preserve the outdoor economic engines Coloradans depend on. I’m grateful for the Community Foundation’s support. These dollars fill a crucial need to support communities that are already experiencing economic stress by funding emergency protection efforts and assisting with local cost-shares that can leverage additional funding through recovery grants.”

Dan Gibbs

Colorado Department of Natural Resources, executive director

On NOCO NOW podcast

Foundation’s own Ella Fahrlander, chief engagement officer, and Mark Driscoll, chair of the Board of Trustees, share details of the NoCoFires Fund watershed recovery plan.

“We are working with Larimer County to develop a watershed-scale burn assessment, and with the U.S. Forest Service on plans and permits for post-fire mitigation to protect water quality that will also protect infrastructure and habitat. A small amount of mitigation work is under way, but much work lies ahead. Stakeholders need to align with resources to prevent fire debris and sediment loading in Northern Colorado streams, rivers, wetlands, and water supply reservoirs.”

Sean Chambers

City of Greeley, director of water and sewer department

Download the June 22, 2021 press release

Download the November 23, 2020 press release

Download the Fat Tire press release