Established as a nonprofit in 2013, in the wake of the devastating High Park and Hewlett Gulch wildfires in the Poudre River Watershed, CPRW collaborates with multiple entities on issues relating to river and forest resilience and wildfire mitigation.poudrewatershed.org
The volunteers loved having the equipment, and it helped that it was so easy to use. We had a half-day classroom session and a trip to the river to practice, and they were set.
Hally Strevey, Watershed Project Manager, CPRW
Aqua TROLL 500 Multiparameter Sonde
By Helen Taylor
Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed
To assess the impact of prescribed burns on the Poudre River and its tributaries in Northern Colorado, the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW) has trained volunteers to use In-Situ equipment to collect water quality data at multiple sites near planned and completed prescribed burn locations.
Each year, as conditions allow, the U.S. Forest Service and other entities execute prescribed burns across the west, in order to mitigate the risk of wildfire. While most forest-management professionals see these controlled fires as an essential defense against increasingly destructive wildfires, little is known about how they affect the water quality in the watersheds where they occur.
In 2018, the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed collaborated with Colorado State University and the Rocky Mountain Research Station (the research arm of the Forest Service) on an ambitious plan to monitor water quality in the Poudre River Watershed. They knew they’d need to collect a mountain of data, given how little existed. And with limited resources, they knew they’d need help to collect it.
CPRW and their partners identified 30 monitoring sites in streams across the upper watershed, and in 2019, launched a citizen science water quality monitoring program to collect data. They also approached In-Situ and purchased three Aqua TROLL 500 Multiparameter Sondes. Beginning last spring, citizen scientists used the Aqua TROLLs to repeatedly spot sample at sites above and below prescribed burn areas and in sites that were burned in the 2012 High Park and Hewlett Gulch Fires.
Monitoring for pH/ORP, DO and nitrate, from the river headwaters to the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, the volunteers have collected a trove of baseline data. CPRW Watershed Project Manager Hally Strevey says that with the volunteers’ help, instead of sampling just once a month throughout the season, they were able to collect data after every prescribed fire and storm event.
“The volunteers loved having the equipment, and it helped that it was so easy to use,” Strevey says. “We had a half-day classroom session and a trip to the river to practice, and they were set.”
Now that CPRW has data to work with, Strevey is counting on their partners at CSU and the Rocky Mountain Research Station for help with data analysis and says the organization plans to share the results with local communities and land managers interested in the impact of prescribed burns on water quality.
“With this data we hope to develop a usable database and make it available to the public on our website and through other outlets,” she says. “As the use of prescribed burns grows, we want anyone to be able to take our model and use it in their own watershed.”
Strevey also hopes to incorporate long-term monitoring into the program, installing equipment in streams above and below a burn a month before it occurs and then evaluating the difference between long-term data collection and spot sampling.
But the citizen-science component will remain. “This is a first for us,” says Strevey. “Not only do we now have a tremendous amount of data to study and share, the program is also an excellent way to spark interest and get the public involved in management decisions that affect our public lands.”