White Jankowski Lawyers

The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership: protecting people, forests, and water resources

July 25, 2013

The U.S. Departments of the Interior and Agriculture just launched a pilot watershed management project in northern Colorado, the headwaters of the Colorado-Big Thompson River water system.  The goal of the project is to reduce the risk of wildfire and associated fire damage to watersheds, thereby protecting forests, drinking water, and water infrastructure. 

Last week, Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, and Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, signed a Memorandum of Understanding at Horsetooth Reservoir.  The agreement is known as the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership (Partnership) and is part of the President’s Climate Action Plan.  It is a federal, local, and private partnership.  Federal agencies will work with local water users to identify and mitigate the risks of wildfire to watersheds. 

The Partnership will make it easier for the two federal agencies to thin forests and prescribe burns.  In addition, the Partnership provides for the rehabilitation of scorched areas by planting trees and improving forest habitat.  The Partnership’s members hope to improve western forest resilience, protect water quality, safeguard drinking water supplies, and reduce the potential for catastrophic damage from wildfires.  Secretary Jewell stated that the Partnership “can serve as a model for the West when it comes to collaborative and targeted fire threat reduction and restoration efforts to protect our critical water supplies” in the face of drier, hotter weather. 

The U.S. Departments of the Interior and Agriculture are also working with state and local stakeholders to formalize additional partnerships in Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and California watersheds.