Glenwood Springs River Commission highlights what to expect moving forward from 2020’s Grizzly Creek Fire | PostIndependent.com
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Glenwood Springs River Commission highlights what to expect moving forward from 2020’s Grizzly Creek Fire

The burn scar of the Grizzly Creek Fire is seen on the hillside above Interstate 70 and the Colorado River near the Grizzly Creek exit in Glenwood Canyon in 2020. Chelsea Self / Post Independent

With the 20 worst wildfires in Colorado’s history all occurring since 2002 — including 2020’s Grizzly Creek Fire — officials and experts have begun addressing what the Roaring Fork Valley should anticipate in relation to long-term impacts of wildland fires.

Flooding and water quality remain the highest concerns.

The Glenwood Springs River Commission hosted an online meeting Wednesday, detailing a one-year plan that includes protection, conservation, use and development of the Colorado River Basin.



“(2002) really marked the beginning of this drought period that we are living though — extremely intense warming and drying,” said Colorado River District Deputy Chief Engineer Dave Kanzer.

According to a presentation given by Kanzer, the plan is to conduct an expanded data collection program that should help detect warnings and signs of impending disaster earlier.



The next step for the river district is to take water samples from two locations on the Colorado River: above Glenwood Springs near No Name and near downtown.

“We want to have an understanding of what’s in the river,” Kanzer said.

The exposed expansion of this water quality monitoring network also aims to add automated samplers, web cameras and electronic sensors along the Colorado River watershed. Meanwhile, new water quality information will help better detect sediment levels as well various water quality indicators, including firefighting foam and organic materials used to combat and extinguish wildland fires.

“We are faced with this warming climate,” Kanzer said. “We cannot rely on this historical data anymore.”

The desired results of the data collection program include streamflow analyses, correlations between various water-quality constituents, streamflow, rain intensity and burn severity.

1. Cameron Peak Fire, 208,663 acres — 2020

2. East Troublesome, 193,812 acres — 2020

3. Pine Gulch Fire, 139,007 acres — 2020

4. Hayman Fire, 137,760 acres — 2002

5. West Fork Complex Fire, 110,405 acres — 2013

6. Spring Creek Fire, 108,045 acres — 2018

7. High Park Fire, 87,284 acres — 2012

8. Missionary Ridge Fire, 71,739 acres — 2002

9. 416 and Burro Fire Complex, 54,129 acres — 2018

10. Bridger Fire, 46,612 acres — 2008

11. Last Chance Fire, 44,000 acres — 2012

12. Bear Springs Complex Fire, 46,257 acres — 2011

13. MM 117 Fire, 42,795 acres — 2018

14. Beaver Creek Fire, 38,380 acres — 2016

15. Bull Draw Fire, 36,520 acres — 2018

16. Badger Hole Fire, 33,609 acres — 2018

17. Trinidad Complex Fire, 33,000 — 2002

18. Logan Fire, 32,564 — 2017

19. Grizzly Creek Fire, 32,431 — 2020

20. Mt. Zirkel Complex Fire, 31,016 acres — 2002

A final interpretive report, which will eventually be made public though the U.S. Geological Survey website, will detail a comparative analysis to historical conditions related to erosion and contaminant loads. It will also help water and land managers and stakeholders gain a better perspective regarding possible links between water quality, water quantity and wildfires.

Coalition & Collaboratives, Inc., CEO Carol Ekarious provided details of how the Grizzly Creek Fire — which consumed 32,431 acres in the region — caused potential hazards.

The Colorado River runs through Glenwood Canyon in this Sept. 23, 2020 file photo. Chelsea Self / Post Independent

She said potential flooding is not just water, but debris and mud that can cause potential disasters and negatively affect the watershed in the long term.

“These impacts can last for years or decades,” she said.

Referring to a map highlighting areas just east of Glenwood Springs affected by recent fires, Ekarious said tens to hundreds of thousands of eroded cubic meters could be the equivalent of “washing machines” rolling down the mountain during ensuing large rain events.

“Your grandkids are going to see a different landscape than you saw,” she said.

Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes said the area not only needs to be thoughtful of their lifestyles — such as what cars they drive and livestock consumption — but prepare for what could happen.

“All these things that contribute to global warming and climate change are really something we need to be very very thoughtful of as a society,” he said… “We need to be thoughtful but we need to prepare.”

rerku@postindependent.com


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