Speedy efforts to stabilize soil after Hewlett Gulch fire pays off for Greeley Water Resources

City signed contracts without federal guarantees

POUDRE CANYON, Colo. - One year after the destructive Hewlett Gulch Fire raced through Poudre Canyon, the soil around Greeley’s Milton Seaman Reservoir appears to be stable.

Yellow and purple flowers bloom on the hillsides and bright blue dragon flies hover near the water’s edge.

It’s a far different scene than what was anticipated.

Greeley Mayor Tom Norton said initially, there were big concerns about erosion.

During a tour of the reservoir and nearby water treatment plant, Norton said, “I was up here right after the fire… it was disheartening. You looked at it and thought how much soil you could lose into the reservoir and how much capacity you’d lose out of it.”

Today, the reservoir’s water is remarkably clean and relatively debris free, thanks to Greeley’s speedy mitigation efforts.

Norton said that after the fire, city officials knew they had to act fast to prevent a catastrophe.

"We kind of stuck out neck out," he said, "and signed contracts to make things happen."

He said they committed money to a major mulching program without any guarantees of matching federal funds.

"“We got a grant from the Natural Resource Conservation Service,” he said, “which paid for straw and seed."

That straw and seed helped the grass come back.

Greeley’s Deputy Director for Water Resources, Eric Reckentine, told 7NEWS that the decision to act fast was made, in part, following discussions with an environmental expert at Denver Water, who told them about the problems that utility faced following the giant Hayman fire.

There were problems with ash, blackened water, soil and debris filling reservoirs and big changes in the pH balance of the water.

"All the nightmarish things that he told us actually started happening,”"Reckentine said. "So again, we jumped on it with some of the recommendations they gave us."

Among the recommendations, stabilize the slopes and shut off diversions when rain washes ash into the Poudre River further upstream.

By doing that, they were able to keep the filters at the Bellvue water treatment plant from getting clogged.

Last year, water was diverted from the plant 45 times following rainstorms which washed ash and debris into the river.

So far this year water has only been diverted from the plant 30 times.

Jon W. Monson, the director of Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department, said neighboring Fort Collins purchased monitors that measure turbidity in the river.

He said that when the levels go up after some rainstorms, they shut the treatment plant’s intakes down.

"Then we’ll get our water from the Big Thompson Project,” he said, “and wait for the flush in the Poudre to go by."

Reckentine said Congress eventually provided matching funds and that the money will be used to help fell trees and do more mulching on the slopes near Seaman Reservoir.