Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership to Support Investments in Building Resilience for Critical Water Resource Infrastructure; Pilot Project Launched in Colorado – Additional Pilots Expected in Arizona, Idaho, California, Washington and Montana
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today announced a federal, local and private partnership that will reduce the risks of wildfire to America's water supply in western states. The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership is part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which outlines a comprehensive approach to reduce carbon pollution and better prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change, including increased risk of wildfires and drought.
Nationwide, the National Forest System provides drinking water to more than 60 million Americans. The share of water supply originating on national forest lands is particularly high across much of the West, including the upper Colorado River basin where nearly half of all water comes from National Forests. Healthy forests filter rain and snowmelt, regulate runoff and slow soil erosion – delivering clean water at a far lower cost than it would take to build infrastructure to replace these services.
The goal of the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership is to restore forest and watershed health and to proactively plan for post-wildfire response actions intended to protect municipal and agricultural water supplies, infrastructures and facilities, water delivery capabilities and hydro-electric power generation. Forest and watershed restoration activities and proactive planning can help minimize sedimentation impacts on reservoirs and other water and hydro-electric infrastructure by reducing soil erosion and the impacts of wildfires, helping water managers avoid costs for dredging, water filtration, and the need to replace damaged infrastructure.
Although comprehensive data on wildfire costs for water users is unavailable, several wildfires in recent decades illustrate the diversity and magnitude of direct costs: