Aerial mulching hopes to cut Cameron Peak damage

Local News

LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — A major restoration project is now underway in the Cameron Peak burn scar to help prevent erosion and mudslides that could impact Greeley’s water supply. 

Nearly a year after the Cameron Peak Fire first started burning in Larimer County, wildflowers and grasses are growing in the same areas that were burned. As welcome a sight as the new vegetation is, the small plants still aren’t growing in the most severely impacted soil patches. 

“You have very burnt soil that any time it rains that soil is going to mobilize and go into our reservoirs and the river,” City of Greeley Water Resources Operations Manager Jen Petrzelka told FOX31. 

In short, Greeley is concerned about mudslides causing burnt soil and debris to get into the water supply. Greeley pulls half of its water supply from the Poudre River. The city also owns five reservoirs in Poudre Canyon, including Peterson Lake, which it uses to store water. Nearly all of it was impacted in the Cameron Peak Fire. 

“Sedimentation into our reservoirs is going to limit the amount of water that we can store and then into the river it’s going to create quality issues making it harder to treat and more expensive to treat,” Petrzelka said. 

On Monday, Greeley started a large-scale aerial mulching project to combat the problem. 

“We have helicopters coming and picking up these big nets of mulch and dropping them over high burn severity areas throughout the burn area,” Petrzelka said. “What that does is help stabilize the soil so vegetation can regrow and that helps reduce runoff and erosion.”

Greeley has identified 10,000 acres in need of mulching. However, they only have enough funds for 2,000 – 3,000 acres right now. 

“It can be $2,500 to $3,000 per acre so it’s a pretty expensive project, but it is the most efficient and effective way to prevent impacts from fire,” Petrzelka said. 

In addition to protecting Greeley’s water supply, the mulching effort may also help save lives and homes in danger of mudslides in the area. Part of the project was scheduled to drop mulch over the same area where five homes were destroyed and one person killed on Black Hollow Road. 

“The event we saw this week was a hundred-year rain event so there was nothing we could have done to prevent the devastation we saw, but any amount of work we can do now will help with future rain events,” Petrzelka said. 

The project is expected to take two to three years to be completed. 

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