You are on page 1of 4
BERG HILL GREENLEAF & RUSCITTI LLP ATTORNEYS & COUNSELORS AT LAW 11712 Peat Street + Boulder, Colorado 80302 “Tele 303.402.1600 » Fax: 303.402.1601 ‘ David G. Hl Exmail: Parter Tune 25, 2007 ‘Members of the South Platte River Basin Task Force Re: Source of Additional Water for Junior South Platte Wells Dear Task Force Member: There is a source of additional water for junior South Platte wells. Forest Service research shows that trimming of overcrowded evergreen forests produces substantial additional runoff, as well as aiding in fire protection and pine bark beetle management. The amount of available water is substantial. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Trimming of overcrowded evergreens produces more runoff for this reason: the closely- knit branches of crowded evergreens capture large amounts of snow. ‘That snow has a high tendency to sublimate (i.e. to transform into water vapor without first melting into water). The capture of the snow by the evergreen branches vastly increases the surface area of the snowfall which is subject to sublimation. This reduces melting into water and consequent runoff, The capture of snowfall on limbs can readily be observed on any ski lift which passes through crowded timber. ‘The amount of water at issue is staggering. Proper thinning of overcrowded stands on the timberable portions of the Arapahoe Roosevelt and Routt National Forests would increase runoff by some 250,000 acre feet per year. (That is an amount greater than the average yield of the entire Northern Colorado system.) Thinning of a portion of the Arapahoe Roosevelt and Pike Forests along the Front Range would more than cover the needs of the well owners. Many mountain communities on the Front Range desperately desire thinning, to reduce wildfire hazard and mitigate the risk of pine bark beetles. Research and experience show that fires in thinned forests tend to be manageable ground fires, which do not harm mature trees, compared to the devastating crown fires recently experienced. Mountain reservoir owners likewise wish to reduce wildfires, which fill their reservoirs with sediment. Thinned evergreens are far healthier, and can often eject bark beetles by an extrusion of sap, so thinning reduces the beetle hazard as well as the fire hazard, But there is a shortage of funds for thinning. June 25,2007 Page 2 Current Colorado statutes and case law prevent one who thins from claiming any of the resultant extra runoff. (The extra runoff simply goes into the priority system.) I propose that the statute be changed to allow thinners, for a period of time, to claim a fraction of the calculated increase in runoff resulting from thinning of overcrowded evergreen forests. ‘The well owners, through their Districts, could provide substantial funds for thinning, in cooperation with mountain communities and mountain reservoir owners. Forest Service research shows that this method of producing water is far less expensive than constructing reservoirs (which may take years to fill, after construction). The savings in wildfire control would be substantial, and thinned, healthy trees are far more resistant to bark beetles than overcrowded, ‘weak trees. Working together to produce more water is better than fighting over the division of the existing supply. DETAILS A great deal of scientific research has been done in the areas discussed above, by the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado State University, among others. ‘The research shows the following, in general, Coverage of Colorado’s high country by evergreen forests has quadrupled, in many areas, since 1900. For example, recent studies of the Routt National Forest show a four hundred percent increase in evergreen coverage since the late 1800°s and early 1900°s. Similar increases are to be found in most areas. ‘The increase in evergreen coverage arises from fire suppression and logging suppression, Before European settlement, the forests regularly bumed. ‘The fires tended to be ground fires which killed small trees but left many large trees alive (their bark protected them, or they were in areas protected from spreading fires). Patches of naturally dense lodgepole forests burned, but the fires were interrupted by natural barriers. ‘The frequent result was “gladed” forests, with patches of surviving large trees, well dispersed, mingled with relatively large areas of meadows, or surviving stands of lodgepole pines interspersed with meadows. And of course the pioneers and their successors heavily logged a number of areas. Today’s forests, by contrast with the early forests, tend to be much greater in coverage and densely packed with over-age trees. The trees tend to be small and unhealthy, because the available water is divided among too many trees. Seriously decreased runoff, devastating crown fires, and lessened beetle resistance are the result. The Forest Service has conducted extensive research into the effect upon runoff created by “patch cutting” of forests, Patch cutting is a form of thinning which consists of cutting all the trees in a series of three to five acre patches, leaving an existing stand of trees between each cut patch, The untouched stand is of the approximate width of the cut area. The research was conducted over a number of years in the St. Louis Creek drainage near Fraser, and on the drainage of Coon Creek, a small tributary of the Encampment River. It is heavily documented. ‘The research showed that patch cutting increased runoff from the thinned areas by an average of June 25, 2007 Page 3 fifteen to twenty percent per year. Thinning by other methods should present the same results, if an equivalent amount of tree canopy is eliminated. Forest Service studies of burned forest areas show an increase in runoff of around twenty percent, which tends to confirm the patch-cutting studies. The Forest Service delineates those National Forest areas which are suitable for timber harvest, based upon topography, aesthetics, road construction required, and the like. If all the areas designated as suitable for timber harvest were patch cut, in the Routt, White River, ‘Arapahoe Roosevelt, Pike and San Isabel forests, an increase in runoff of around 500,000 acre feet would result Thinning of only modest portions of the Front Range forests would produce enough to cover most well depletions. ‘The effects of thinning upon wildfire suppression are well known and well documented. Likewise, CSU and the Forest Service can produce information about resistance to bark beetles which can often result from healthier stands. T have an extensive bibliography of the various studies, and copies of some of them, which I can provide upon request. I am also happy to answer questions as best I can. CONCLUSION ‘At present, there is not enough water in the South Platte basin to go around. Non- augmented well pumping reduces the amount available to surface users, both farmers and cities. Lawn and tree irrigation in cities takes a lot of water; but CSU studies show that an irrigated awn and trees reduces ambient air temperatures on a hot day by around ten to twelve degrees Fahrenheit. So our lawns and trees are natural air conditioners; if cities do not have them, air conditioning use will soar, electricity generation will have to soar, and increased greenhouse gases will result, The plight of the as-yet unaugmented well users is desperate indeed, and they need help. But providing “free” water to non-augmented well users “out of the hides” of those who have bought and paid for their surface water or their well augmentation water could provoke animosity which lasts for generations, and could start the breakdown of Colorado’s carefully constructed water system. Transferring the allocation of water from the priority system to the decisions of the legislature, or to a future politically-appointed State Engineer, could result in an allocation system based on raw political power. Colorado does not need a fight between surface users and non-augmented well owners; Colorado needs more water. There is a way to get it. We should cooperate to get it. Tree cutting for any purpose is anathema to some in our society, in part because of past abuse of clear-cut logging. So any thinning will have to be conducted with due respect to those