Hey there, Boulder! 👋 Welcome to your Monday edition of BRL Today.

This morning we’re bringing you the final installment in a two-part series on the relationship between wildfire and water quality. Reporter Tim Drugan spoke with local experts about why Boulder is investing in forest health projects to protect the city’s water sources ahead of the next blaze.

Plus a call for “citizen scientists” to help with Boulder’s urban heat mapping project this summer, free shuttles to Chautauqua and Eldorado Canyon State Park, a new OSMP project map and a whole lot more.

We’ll be back here on Wednesday. In the meantime, please feel free to reach out with story tips, feedback, questions and comments. We love to hear from you!

– Jezy, managing editor

Looking south toward the NCAR Fire burn scar from Two Tree Hill near Bear Creek on May 18, 2022. See today’s top story to learn how Boulder is investing in forest thinning to protect the city’s water sources ahead of the next wildfire. Credit: Jezy J. Gray

Quickly

Mostly cloudy and cool: After a weekend that saw 8.3 inches of snow in Boulder, expect highs near 60 today under plenty of cloud cover. Tomorrow will be slightly cooler, but a warming trend could push temps into the mid-80s by Friday.

🥵 Summer heat map: Boulder is looking for “citizen scientists” to help with the city’s urban heat mapping project this summer, funded through a recent grant the city received from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Volunteers will be collecting temperature data across the city as part of the Cool Boulder campaign, to better understand the disparities in how rising heat caused by climate change affects residents across the city.

🆕 2 people killed in small plane crash: Per the AP: “The single-engine Piper PA32 went down in the Anthem Ranch neighborhood in Broomfield just before noon Sunday. No one on the ground was injured, and no homes were damaged.” The plane had taken off from Erie Municipal Airport. The crash was the second in Broomfield this month.

⛰️ OSMP project map: Want to learn about planned projects in store for Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks? The department has released a 2022 project map detailing work ahead for the city’s trails and public lands.

🚌 Chautauqua Park shuttle: The City of Boulder will operate a free shuttle service to Chautauqua Park from two free satellite parking lots and downtown, beginning Saturday, May 28. The shuttle will run on weekends and summer holidays, through Sept. 5. More info here.

More free shuttles: In addition to the Chautauqua Park service, residents can also take a free shuttle to Eldorado Canyon State Park, including Marshall Mesa, Doudy Draw, and South Mesa trailheads. Like the Chautauqua shuttle, rides begin Saturday, May 28, and run through Sept. 5 on weekends and holidays.

🙋‍♂️ Marshall Together seeking volunteers as help wanes: “If you know any members of our community who were not impacted directly by the Marshall Fire and are interested in volunteering, please have them send us an email,” the group wrote. “This is a long recovery process and the help that existed at the beginning is waning. We have requests for support around all types of things and could use help.”

🌊 Barker Reservoir update: Per the city: “Barker Reservoir is expected to start spilling in the next two weeks. This is a normal and expected event, which will increase flows in Boulder Creek throughout the city. … Unlike flood control reservoirs that have extremely large storage volumes (e.g. Cherry Creek and Chatfield Reservoirs), Barker Reservoir has relatively limited storage space, which means that when the reservoir is full, excess water passes over the spillway and continues flowing downstream into Boulder Creek.” The Barker Reservoir watershed is also where forest thinning efforts are underway.👇

Top Story

Why Boulder is investing in forest thinning to protect the city’s water sources ahead of the next wildfire

One of the biggest risks of wildfire — outside of flames welcoming themselves, uninvited, into our neighborhoods — is its potential effect on water quality. Ash and sediment from burn sites happily ride rainwater downhill to clog stream channels and lower water quality for all those downstream.

Last week, Boulder Reporting Lab spoke with Kate Dunlap, Boulder’s water quality project manager, about the city’s strategy for protecting local water sources after a wildfire. But just as fire mitigation is almost always more cost-effective than fighting a fire, so too is protecting water sources before the forest around them burns. Boulder is adhering to this economic lesson and addressing fire risk around the city’s water supply before fires begin of their own accord. 

“We’ve been scaling up investment in forest health projects in the upper watersheds to conduct forest thinning projects,” Dunlap said. “We’re restoring meadow area by removing a significant portion of lodgepole pine which have encroached upon ponderosa pine.”

The projects, which for now are focused on the Barker Reservoir watershed, also aim to remove trees infested with Bark Beetle or Mistletoe (a parasitic plant), and improve first responder access should a fire break out in that area.

Driving up Boulder Canyon Drive, or Highway 119, Barker Reservoir opens to your left with the Town of Nederland close behind. In terms of storage capacity, it holds less water than flood control reservoirs like the Cherry Creek and Chatfield reservoirs. When Barker is full, the excess water flows over the spillway and downstream into Boulder Creek.    

Located on Middle Boulder Creek and supplying roughly one third of Boulder’s water, much of Barker’s watershed (the area feeding the reservoir) is forested. Thinning that landscape back to its historical density, in addition to the previously cited benefits, also reduces the probable intensity of future fires.

“What you’re trying to avoid is high intensity fires, the ones where you’re going to get high [vegetation] mortality and impacts to the soil,” said Chris Wanner, Boulder’s vegetation stewardship senior manager who works with Dunlap on the forest health projects.

The soil impacts Wanner mentioned are called hydrophobicity: a condition caused by the waxy substance in plants turning into a gas while burning, infiltrating the soil, and then resolidifying around soil particles, making them repel water. “If you get a really hot burning fire, it can have impacts on runoff,” Wanner said.

BRL Picks

🌱 Seeds of change: Want to get your hands dirty while fighting hunger in Boulder County? Uproot Farms in Lafayette, a nonprofit growing food for hunger relief, is hosting a volunteer event on May 28 and 29. Volunteers will have the opportunity to help transplant young plants and plant seeds for the upcoming season. Sign up here.

❤️‍🩹 Preserving memories: Per the City of Louisville: “Have you or someone you know recovered an item from the Marshall Fire burn areas? Want to learn about preserving your family photos to protect them for the future? Have a story to share about the Marshall Fire? You’re invited to these free, drop-in workshops to learn how to clean and stabilize fire-damaged items from professional conservators, digitize family photos, and share your story.”

🎨 Art from the Heart (rescheduled): AdderlyArt Studios presents an artist showcase with live music and a food truck this Saturday, May 28, at 2490 Cana Ct. in Lafayette from 1–7 p.m. The event will include sculpture, painted works, Henna art and more — plus cuisine from Lenin’s Wood Fire Pizza food truck.

Covid-19 Updates: May 23, 2022

  • 217 daily new cases (7-day avg.) ⬆️Up 107% over preceding 7-day avg.
  • 9 patients hospitalized with Covid (7-day avg.) Down from last week’s high of 15.
  • 44% percent of ICU is occupied. Down from avg. of 71% since July 2020.

What We’re Reading

📖 With 15 uncontained large fires nationwide, Forest Service pauses prescribed burns: Per Forest Service Chief Randy Moore – “I’m sure you all have seen the stories in the news about recent prescribed burn escapes. These, as well as isolated incidents on other national forests in recent years, have made it imperative that we pause to review our processes. That’s why I am temporarily halting all prescribed burns on National Forest System lands and creating a review team consisting of representatives from the wildland fire and research community.” [U.S. Forest Service]

📖 U.S. judge blocks 35 gas wells under national forest in western Colorado: “U.S. District Court judge blocked a plan approved by federal agencies for 35 fracked gas wells across 30,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land between Gunnison and the Grand Mesa, handing a victory to environmental groups suing the government for failing to take climate change into account in approving new drilling.” The company, Gunnison Energy, had already drilled one well under the plan. The plan allowed for 35 wells in total. [Colorado Sun]

📖 Denver placed 597 people experiencing homelessness into housing in the past 100 days: “Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced Friday that the city has completed the second round of its ‘housing surge,’ during which his administration attempted to find homes for 400 households in 100 days. Both times, the city has fallen a few dozen households short of its ‘stretch goal.'” [Denverite]

ICYMI from BRL

🏠 Boulder City Council nixes potential housing block from East Boulder redevelopment plan after pushback from drug manufacturer. Concerns over the impact of noise, light and air pollution on future residents prompted councilmembers to reconsider adding housing near the pharmaceutical plant. The decision highlights the challenges of transforming industrial areas into mixed-use neighborhoods, and the complexities of addressing affordable housing and environmental justice concerns.

💧 Wildfire is among the biggest risks to Boulder’s water supply. How is the city protecting its streams, creeks and reservoirs? Kate Dunlap, water quality project manager for the City of Boulder, breaks down strategies to keep water sources clean from ash and sediment after a burn.

🌆 What will Boulder’s new designation as a ‘Lifelong City’ mean for its growing population of older residents? “We want Boulder to be as comfortable and accessible for an 80-year-old as an 8-year-old,” says Eden Bailey, manager of the city’s Older Adult Services.

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Thanks for reading!

Our journalism depends on you.
Have a story tip for us?
Send us your ideas at tips@boulderreportinglab.org.

– The BRL Team

Jezy J. Gray

I’m the managing editor of the Boulder Reporting Lab. In addition to years of writing on the culture, politics and history of my home state of Oklahoma, I was the final editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Voice, a local bi-weekly newspaper where I led a small but mighty team of journalists to regional and national honors in feature writing, diversity reporting, LGBTQ+ coverage and more. I look forward to listening to and learning from the Boulder community as we work together on telling the stories that matter here.