If the aftermath of the Waldo Canyon Fire proves anything, it's this: Nature is a formidable adversary.
And expensive. This year, governments, governmental entities and nonprofits expect to spend nearly $22.5 million on harnessing floodwaters since the 2012 fire. That money will help, but mitigation work will be needed for years to come ("A guided tour through Williams Canyon," here).
That means financial challenges for the entities footing the bill. Take, for instance, El Paso County, which has secured $1.2 million in construction funding on private lands from federal Emergency Watershed Protection grants. The money comes with catches, including a Jan. 16 completion date for projects, and "match money" equal to 25 percent of the grant.
County Engineer Andre Brackin says he feels confident that the county can scrape together the money — and there's a chance El Pomar Foundation may help — but he's less certain about the timing.
"We've gotten one 220-day extension, [and] we're going to ask for another 220-day extension," Brackin says.
County Fire Recovery Manager R.C. Smith adds that federal grants such as this come with other rules that can be a hassle. For instance, the county often contracts work with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, a nonprofit that specializes in such labor. Problem is, federal grants often require work be completed and "verified" before workers can be paid.
"CUSP has been really up-front on the work," Smith says. "And until we got the money and then had to verify the work had been done, we couldn't cut them a check. So they're getting further and further in, and [CUSP executive director Carol Ekarius] is like, 'We're going to have to pull people off this project. ... Yes, I have volunteers, but I have paid people, too. I have to pay them.'"
It's worth noting that grants tend to be specific to a type of landowner. EWP funds are targeted to private lands, often benefiting public land downstream. Burned Area Emergency Response funds are for National Forest lands.
BAER funds are absolutely invaluable. Of the 18,247 acres that Waldo burned, 14,422 were National Forest land. The Pike and San Isabel National Forest has spent about $700,000 mitigating the forest since Waldo. By comparison, BAER funds have made up the rest of an approximately $7.2 million pot. District Ranger Allan Hahn says all that money has been obligated or spent.
The Forest Service has concentrated on mitigating waterways so far, and Hahn feels the bulk of the important work has been done. Which is great, because the Forest Service isn't likely to get another huge injection. Hahn hopes to scrape together enough to monitor waterways, keep recreationalists out of the burn scar, and mitigate hillsides.
"If the Forest Service gave me twice as much money, I could spend it," he says. "But that doesn't mean we can't do what's required."
Both Ekarius and Rocky Mountain Field Institute executive director Rebecca Reed Jewett say they'd like to spend more time working on Forest Service lands, as well as other high-priority areas. But they rely largely on government contractors, who get their money from grants. The rest of the nonprofits' money comes from private donations (contribute at uppersouthplatte.org or rmfi.org), foundations, and the occasional fundraiser — RMFI got a huge boost from April's "Fifth Annual Fashion and Greenie Awards" event, for instance.
"In general," Jewett says, "for every dollar invested, we can get about $3 to $4 of work done."
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