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CO - Readying for Resilience through Infrastructure

In August 2020, a wildfire broke out along Route 70 in Glenwood Canyon, a major thoroughfare across the Rocky Mountains in central Colorado. The fire quickly burned through vegetation on either side of the canyon, loosing rocks that shut down Route 70 for two weeks.

This is the 18th in our series, “The ABCs of the AJP.”

In August 2020, a wildfire broke out along Route 70 in Glenwood Canyon, a major thoroughfare across the Rocky Mountains in central Colorado. The fire quickly burned through vegetation on either side of the canyon, loosing rocks that shut down Route 70 for two weeks. As the fire spread, it temporarily shuttered the Shoshone Generating Station, a hydroelectric power station that controls water flow in the upper Colorado River, and forced residents of several communities to evacuate to Glenwood Springs, a nearby town of 10,000. By the time the fire was put out in December, it had burned over 30,000 acres and cost over $30 million to contain.

Well before full containment, scientists from the U.S. Forest Service had arrived on-site to map regions where shrubs, bushes, trees, and other ground cover had burned away, increasing the risk of sediment runoff, landslides, and flash floods. The town of Glenwood Springs quickly identified a list of critical infrastructure needs, including upstream structures to prevent flooding in burned regions; new and upgraded water intake systems and treatment facilities to filter out sediment from the town’s water supply; and a new bridge across the Roaring Fork River in southern Glenwood Springs, which would prevent residents on the western side of the river from being trapped if subsequent wildfires closer to town blocked off existing evacuation routes.

The infrastructure improvements proposed by Glenwood Springs do not seek to restore the pre-fire status quo. Instead, they seek to prevent or mitigate the impact of future natural disasters. As one town official noted, they would provide “a lot of resiliency moving into the future. Not just fire resiliency, but [also] a lot of water resource resiliency.”

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