The Nature Conservancy (TNC) retained ICS to help the organization determine how it could support more integrated, effective approaches to watershed health and management in and around southern Colorado’s growing Front Range metropolitan regions. Natural Solutions for a Communally Vibrant, Ecologically Resilient Fountain Creek: A Strategic Framework and Opportunities Analysis (Natural Solutions) is the result of that effort.

Natural Solutions informs potential TNC engagements in and around the Fountain Creek Watershed by combining goals, strategies, and key actions the organization can pursue with examples of projects that employ nature itself as a solution to address watershed management challenges. These strategic frameworks and prototype projects—explored through engagement with local stakeholders and state and national experts—align global TNC priorities with regional needs. They meet specific community-relevance and conservation-impact objectives established as guiding criteria at the onset of the project, supporting efforts that:

  • deliver durable conservation outcomes at scale;
  • address community-identified challenges or gaps;
  • have a broad base of support;
  • build lasting capacity;
  • drive systemic change;
  • address a critical environmental challenge in the watershed; and
  • demonstrate the value of and build support for nature-based solutions.

Fountain Creek is tributary to the Arkansas River, which is, in turn, the second-longest tributary in the Mississippi River system. The creek descends an incredible 9,475 vertical feet in just 74.5 miles from tributary headwaters on Pikes Peak to its confluence with the Arkansas River in the City of Pueblo. The 927-square-mile watershed spans portions of three counties (El Paso, Pueblo, and Teller) and various municipalities and townships (including Colorado Springs, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls, Manitou Springs, Monument, Palmer Lake, Pueblo, and Woodland Park). Fountain Creek ranks as one of Colorado’s most degraded waterways. It has been a nexus of conflict between upstream and downstream communities for decades and is the focus of a major Environmental Protection Agency lawsuit.

Three opportunity areas—forest health initiatives, collaborative stream management planning, and green-stormwater-infrastructure partnerships—emerged as TNC priorities. These are areas where TNC’s global expertise could be applied to reverse years of watershed degradation. ICS and the TNC leadership team developed strategic frameworks to guide actions within these opportunity areas, actions that will enable TNC to:

1. Engage land managers, communities, and private businesses in building a more proactive culture of forest and fire management—one that builds fire-adapted communities, improves wildfire response, enhances landscape resilience, and increases the pace and scale of forest restoration across 200 square miles of Fountain Creek’s western tributary drainage areas.

2. Support regional partners in creating new delivery mechanisms for stormwater management and channel restoration projects—especially green infrastructure projects—by combining community capacity-building assistance that activates key policy levers with on-the-ground demonstrations that catalyze more sustainable development.

3. Support collaborative efforts to protect and restore Fountain Creek through the development of scientifically grounded stream management plans and decision-making tools—products that build consensus for restoration needs and priorities, create actionable lists of projects, and open doors to new funding opportunities for watershed partners.

A combination of strategic frameworks and GIS analyses enabled ICS and the TNC leadership team to develop a suite of on-the-ground projects with stakeholders in several communities, and a list of priority projects was established and documented in a Natural Solutions Project Supplement. While by no means an exhaustive list of project-based opportunities, the Project Supplement outlines specific steps that will help TNC launch its work within the 927-square-mile watershed.

stormwater flooding fountain creek

Stormwater from the greater Colorado Springs metropolitan region fills a farmer’s ditch with urban refuse.

To learn more about the altered hydrology of Fountain Creek and TNC’s efforts to restore river flow and function, see: A Western River with too Much Water? Or, read the ICS report: Natural Solutions for a Communally Vibrant, Ecologically Resilient Fountain Creek.