The Coalition for the Upper South Platte seeks to protect the water quality and ecological health of the Upper South Platte Watershed, through the cooperative efforts of watershed stakeholders, with emphasis placed on community values and economic sustainability.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR STATEMENT
I am intensely proud of the growth and development of CUSP. This is an organization that has effectively evolved over time to meet great challenges and demands. From our start in the late 1990's, CUSP has always been responsive and mission-driven. We embrace a strong conviction that a diverse representation of watershed stakeholders best serves our obligation to preserve the vital natural resource we are bound to protect.
For decades, watershed protection nonprofits focused their missions and work on specific bodies of water and what was in that water. Little attention was paid to how things got into the water and so response tended to be reactive rather than preemptive. A number of devastating events in the Upper South Platte Watershed, including the Buffalo Creek fire of 1996 and the Snaking and Hayman fires in 2002, vividly demonstrated to CUSP leadership that watershed protection goes far beyond the banks of a river. CUSP realized the need to shatter the traditional organizational mold and to create a new model of watershed protection-one that looks at the "big picture" and supports proactive, science-based programs that promote health and resiliency throughout the watershed environment as well as emergency response programs that address catastrophic events. By trailblazing innovative resource protection practices and applications, as well as emergency response approaches to fire and flood, CUSP has gained national attention and prominence as an expert in post-fire recovery and ecological restoration.
We work diligently to engender and inspire a culture of collaboration and partner with an extensive group of agencies, organizations, and individuals to accomplish goals and tasks that none of us could do alone. CUSP provides a vital link in a public, private and governmental nexus, working together to develop, implement and successfully complete projects that protect not only our water quality and natural resources, but also our communities. These invaluable relationships and projects have helped CUSP become highly successful at receiving and administering millions of dollars in federal and state grants, helping us to become an effective regional economic force, not just by growing our own staff, but also by providing work to many local contractors and their employees.
The great work we do means little if we don't share the knowledge and expertise that produces positive results. Understanding that "a higher tide lifts all boats" we work with and mentor smaller and emerging resource protection organizations knowing that many small achievements impact a larger scale of success, and benefit us all.
Using the CUSP organizational prototype, a new umbrella nonprofit, Coalitions and Collaboratives Inc. (COCO Inc.), has recently been launched to foster on-the-ground conservation and efforts to protect and restore natural resources and local communities by supporting coalition and collaborative groups that produce collective impacts through stakeholder driven effort. COCO Inc., is expanding quickly, helping CUSP to further our mission while inspiring communities along Colorado's Front Range to work together in a spirit of cooperation.
CUSP BOARD CHAIR STATEMENT
A Board of Directors made up of various stakeholders governs the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP). Certain board membership is reserved for water utilities operating within the Upper South Platte Watershed including, Denver Water, Aurora, Centennial Water, Colorado Springs Utilities and the following counties: Park, Douglas, Jefferson and Teller. These entities assign staff or representatives/elected officials to fill the CUSP board positions. Other stakeholder representatives include members from regional conservation and conservancy districts, other natural resource protection nonprofit organizations as well as interested individuals.
CUSP's distinctive board make-up provides many advantages. Members have both a deep and a broad understanding of the many issues and impacts to the watershed. With professional backgrounds in engineering and science, community planning and elected office, finance and fundraising, board members bring diverse and relevant perspectives to the challenges facing the watershed. From understanding the science behind ecological impacts to political nuances of decisions, the CUSP's board is able to make informed, mission-driven decisions regarding the direction of the organization.
Since the watershed is so large (2,600 square miles), in the past it had been a challenge scheduling monthly in-person meetings in a locale that was easy for everyone on the board to access. Now, to make it easier for all, the board meets either by conference call or in person. During call-in meetings the board reviews minutes, financial statements, legislative updates, program and project progress as well as reports from directors. For in-person meetings, themed presentations or tours are provided and once a year, typically in August, we hold a combined board and staff meeting. This schedule has greatly increased board attendance and provides great opportunities for the board and staff to get to know each other.
The board does not focus on the day-to-day operations of the organization, but rather on the larger issues and policies of CUSP. These can include, but are not limited to, financial decisions related to employee benefits or polices related to succession planning. The board also reviews and provides input and advisement on organizational statement and/or white papers related to salient issues with potentially political implications that impact the watershed.
" My husband, James Bennett, and I volunteer because we love our beautiful state (CO natives!) and want to keep it that way for our children and future generations. We feel honored and compelled to help restore local areas that have been affected by fire or flood, and CUSP gets out there and makes it happen! We chose you because you make yourselves known (active on Facebook, etc) and you always show love for your volunteers! So thanks and hopefully we'll be seeing you again soon!"
"Volunteering with CUSP has been an educational experience. Every time I volunteer with CUSP I learn something new. The leadership, knowledge, and friendly staff keep me coming back to help out with projects year after year. These guys are the true stewards of the land."
"I had the privilege of volunteering with two groups of students for you all! I brought a group of students to do work on the Hayman Fire burn area in 2007, and another in 2013 on the Waldo Canyon fire on the Flying W Ranch property. It was wonderful to work alongside great CUSP staff, but the best part was educating students about the purpose of restoration efforts. The Waldo Canyon fire was in our back yard (I'm from Colorado Springs), so the work we did was especially meaningful, because we were close to home. Thank you for your willingness to work with a bunch of high school kids and their teacher, but thanks even more for educating the next generation about so many things: restoration, the importance of fire mitigation, what the urban interface means...and helping kids see how they impact and are impacted by all of these!" Sue Knopp
"Had the CUSP crew over to do some fire mitigation, and it was a pleasure to volunteer with a group of professional foresters. They worked like Tasmanian devils to clear and chip an acre of dense scrub oak in a matter of days. Will definitely have them back." Rob Yocom:
The Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP) was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 1998 by a group of watershed stakeholders responding to the following three major events of the mid 1990's:
1. The potential designation of South Platte River segments under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, based on Outstandingly Remarkable Values. Front Range water providers (for whom the Upper South Platte Watershed is a major source of drinking water) were concerned about how a possible designation would affect their water rights and their ability to supply water to their communities.
2. Water providers were required to study the watershed as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Source Water Assessment Programs.
3. The 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire burned 11,700 acres in the watershed, and the subsequent flooding resulted in serious impacts on lives, properties, and water supplies. The largest fire in Colorado history at the time, the Buffalo Creek Fire was a wake-up call for organizations dealing with forest health and fire issues that more severe fires could come.
Since 1998, CUSP has worked to protect the 2,600-square-mile watershed that reaches from the Continental Divide, east to Strontia Springs Reservoir, southwest of Denver. It varies in elevation from ~ 6,000 to over 14,000 feet above sea level and contains five major municipal and several smaller reservoirs providing water for about three quarters of Colorado's residents. The watershed is a recreational mecca with over 1.6 million acres of public land. It is renowned for its "gold-medal" fishing streams and is home to numerous threatened and endangered species.
On June 8, 2002, the catastrophic Hayman Fire ignited southwest of Denver, near Lake George. It was finally contained on July 3rd, and during its 25-day reign, burned a 137,000-acre area within the watershed, making it the largest wildfire in Colorado history. As the Hayman was burning, the USFS and other partners called upon CUSP to lead efforts dealing with the aftermath of the fire. CUSP grew quickly as it operated Hayman Recovery Assistance Center. Staffing increased rapidly and for months after the fire, they were busy fielding thousands of phone calls from fire victims, bureaucrats, academics, the media, and donors, as well as coordinating distribution of supplies and donations for victims. CUSP staff and partners coordinated more than 3,000 volunteers (who provided 23,000 volunteer hours) for immediate fire recovery.
The Hayman Fire became a "research laboratory" for the study and understanding of fire behavior and post-fire impacts in the arid West. The lessons learned from the Hayman Fire are vast and devastating. The post-fire flooding that occurred provided unprecedented data and understanding of how to prepare for and remediate the inevitable flooding after a fire.
As interest and research grew, so did CUSP's science-driven response to fire recovery, rehabilitation, mitigation efforts and programming. Over time, due to devastating impacts to water quality and watershed health, CUSP has become a go-to expert in all phases of post-fire recovery as well as fuels mitigation fire prevention. CUSP works on forest health, fire rehabilitation, river restoration, and educational programming. CUSP is a nationally recognized and mobilizing force for regional watershed protection and is a successful role model for watershed and natural resource protection organizations.
Today, CUSP has grown and contracts with many local companies on complex and labor intensive projects throughout the watershed. The organization is a significant fiscal engine for the regional economy, bringing in millions of dollars in federal and state grants annually that support numerous projects throughout Colorado's Front Range. CUSP works with a diverse group of partners including other nonprofits and citizen groups.
CUSP receives many calls from communities, local governments and agencies outside of our watershed that have had to deal with devastating wild fires and post fire flooding. CUSP has responded and took a major role in assisting in the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012. CUSP leadership has taken the lead in creating a resource protection nonprofit umbrella organization, Coalitions and Collaborations, Inc. (COCO Inc.) that provides support for emerging and existing watershed groups that work collaboratively to foster conservation efforts.
CUSP's programs, projects and initiatives nclude:
Assessment and Monitoring provides both current data and baselines for measuring effectiveness over time. Monitoring includes detailed observation of water quality; forest health; oil and gas exploration impact initiatives; noxious weed invasion: and issues related to potential hazards of abandoned mine sites. State-of-the- art GIS and mapping capabilities further enhances the level of real-time empirical data collection and analysis.
Educational programming takes a whole-system approach to science literacy by offering "Teach the Teacher" training, as well as student-focused experiential learning programs, such as "From Forest to Faucets" and online teaching modules that incorporate service learning projects.
Forest Health projects and initiatives include Beetle Mitigation, Community Wildfire Protection Plans. Neighborhood Fuels Reduction Projects, and Slash Sites. CUSP also supports its own certified Fire Suppression and Emergency Response team who work cooperatively with regional governments to provide services and volunteer coordination during fire and flood emergencies.
Habitat and Trail Projects encompass maintenance, erosion control, tree planting or, when necessary, closing trails in an effort to minimize water quality impacts. River restoration projects include the highly innovative "Trees for Trout" program. Burned trees from the Hayman fire have been harvested and used in local waterways to restore habitat and secure riverbanks. Other restoration projects are helping to create unique beaver habitat and addressing impacts of over use.
CUSP has a vibrant Volunteer Program. For local residents, volunteering for fire restoration projects has had a particularly profound and empowering effect, giving them the opportunity to reclaim and revive their devastated landscape.
The thousands of hours that volunteers work translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars of in-kind labor used as required match for federal and state grants.
Volunteers come from all walks of life and from as far away as the Ukraine, Japan and Australia. Many local students as well as students from other states and countries come away from their volunteer experience inspired to seek careers in the fields of environmental education, forestry and scientific research.