Colorado: State touts logging as way to increase water

The Pueblo Chieftan


DENVER, COLO (AP) - Aggressive logging, including clear cuts, could release enough water to supply a million Colorado families, state officials say.

Logging to produce water has been studied on small plots for decades. With Republicans in control of the Colorado General Assembly and Congress, such projects are expected to get serious consideration from state and federal officials.

‘‘The idea of more actively managing forests to mitigate wildfire and help restore water yields holds tremendous promise,’’ said Kent Holsinger, the top water official in the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

Holsinger and other officials have been touting the benefits of logging projects to help drought-stricken Colorado communities.

‘‘With scientific data showing active management can result in more water for Coloradans, this is right near the top of the list of things we need to look at,’’ said Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., who heads the House Forest Health Subcommittee.

Environmentalists have condemned the idea, saying massive logging is guaranteed to increase flooding and degrade mountain streams.

‘‘This is beyond harebrained,’’ said Chris Wood, an adviser to former Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck during the Clinton administration. ‘‘This will produce a tremendous backlash when people see what this looks like on the ground.’’

The idea is that removing trees allows more snow to fall to the ground, where it flows into streams and rivers during the spring. Some forest researchers and water users complain Colorado’s forests are too thick and soak up snow that would otherwise add to the snowpack that melts and runs downhill to farmers and cities every spring.

Melting snow contributes about 80 percent of the water in rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs, which comprise much of the state’s water supply. Eight major Colorado river systems also provide water to 10 Western states.

Huge amounts of forest - between 25 percent and 40 percent of a watershed - have to be cut to significantly increase runoff, according to studies. But the largest increases are in wet years, not during droughts.

The Owens administration says increased logging can serve the dual benefit of reducing wildfire risk while providing more water as forests are returned to a more natural state.

But the dry, over-dense pine forests that burned last summer never get enough snow to be sources of water. The moist, high-snow forests that only burn once every few centuries would have to be cut to produce large amounts of water, environmentalists say.

‘‘The link between logging for fire mitigation and logging for water is a false one,’’ said environmental hydrologist Dan Luecke of Boulder.

And removing trees causes erosion, which clogs streams with sediment that stifles habitat for fish and aquatic insects, according to environmentalists.

‘‘You’re completely altering the hydrology of these systems for a short-term gain in water quantity,’’ said Wood, now the vice president for conservation programs at Trout Unlimited. ‘‘But the long-term impacts on water quality and wildlife are immense.’’

Many critics believe economics will doom plans to boost logging.

‘‘You have to ask two questions: How much will it cost and what else could we be doing with the money?’’ said Luecke.


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