Peak & Prairie

Rocky Mountain Chapter's
Online Newsletter
June / July 1999


Big Thompson Watershed

by Jody Ostendorf, Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Note: The following article reflects the experience of people in the Big Thompson watershed in setting up a collaborative group to deal with threats to drinking water in that Front Range watershed. Watershed collaborative groups are the “wave of the future” in water quality matters in Colorado generally, and can be useful in addressing wastewater as well as drinking water problems. As the Chapter’s Water Quality Committee Chair, I urge Sierra Club members throughout the state to become aware of an involved in watershed matters. If you would like more information or how to do this than is given in this article, please call me, Kirk Cunningham, 303-939-8519,


Signs of Trouble

It started with occasional fish kills and periodic taste and odor complaints from drinking water customers. Today, treatment plant operators increasingly encounter source water problems. Interest runs high in finding cooperative ways to reduce problems at the source. In short, surface water quality in the Big Thompson watershed is showing signs of trouble, which, left uncorrected, will affect the drinking water supplies of more than 500,000  people in cities and towns along Colorado’s North Front Range.


Call for Action

Citizen concern for this precious resource spurred the creation of the Big Thompson Watershed Forum (BTWF). Established in 1998, the Forum brings together private citizens and government agencies to protect drinking water by providing information, educational programs, and sound management practices to reduce or eliminate water quality problems. BTWF participants include anyone who impacts or benefits from the quality of water in the Big Thompson, including municipalities, industries, agricultural producers, recreational enthusiasts, land owners, and the general public.

In fact, anyone receiving water from the Colorado Big Thompson is a BTWF stakeholder. This includes residents of many North Front Range communities, including Loveland, Estes Park, Ft. Collins, Greeley, Longmont and Boulder along with communities served by many smaller treatment facilities.

Corporations relying on this water supply include Kodak, IBM, Hewlett Packard, and Anheuser-Busch.

 Photo: Rob Buigy - A scenic view of the Big Thompson Watershed

Finding Money: Local Support Counts

Through an unusual partnership, Thompson R2J School District and drinking water utilities contribute to BTWF to provide all the base revenue needed for operations and maintenance of the Forum. Last year, the Forum contracted with the school district for 80 percent of Buirgy’s contract, freeing him to serve as the Forum’s founding coordinator while he continues to teach the Thompson River Project.

In the first year-and-a-half of its existence, the Forum has received  several grants for projects. These include a Regional Geographic Initiative grant and a grant from the Office of Sustainable Development, both through Region 8 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with a Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These grants provide the resources needed to improve understanding of factors affecting water quality in the basin and to “get the word out” to the community.


Getting Involved: You Can Make a Difference

Safe drinking water is everyone’s business. Although water providers have  been the most active BTWF members to date, the Forum sees broad-based community involvement as essential for success of the protection program and invites all community members to participate. If you would like information about getting involved in protecting the Big Thompson watershed, contact  BTWF at, or call Rob Buirgy at 970-669-5395. For information about EPA programs and grants to support local watershed protection efforts in your area, please contact Karen Hamilton (CBEP) at 303-312-6236 or send email to, or Joyce Brame (grants) at 303-312-6367 or


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