Bennet, Udall Secure Watershed Protection Funds in Proposed Disaster Legislation

Senators Pledge to Fight to Ensure Money is Used to Address Colorado Wildfire Damage

December 13, 2012

Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall welcomed language in the Senate's $60.4 billion Supplemental Appropriation for Disaster Assistance bill, unveiled today, which includes $125 million the senators successfully advocated for and secured to support watershed remediation efforts. Udall and Bennet said this level of investment – if passed into law – likely ensures that the damages El Paso, Larimer and Weld counties sustained during this year’s wildfire season are addressed as Congress confronts the damage of Hurricane Sandy.

"This summer, Coloradans endured a devastating series of disasters – catastrophic wildfires in the midst of one of the worst droughts in decades," Bennet said. "We're glad the Appropriations Committee is listening to Colorado and included a boost for this vital program. While this is only the first step in a long legislative process, we will continue to fight to keep these resources in the final version of the bill."

"The language unveiled today is welcome news for the residents and businesses of Larimer, El Paso and Weld counties. As the U.S. Senate takes up this bill, I pledge to my constituents and colleagues that I will fight to ensure that Colorado does not get overlooked as we confront the terrible disasters our nation experienced this year," Udall said. "Stabilizing and protecting these communities’ watersheds is not only the right thing to do, but it also is the fiscally responsible approach. If we do not quickly confront the approximately $20 million in watershed damages, taxpayers could face hundreds of millions of dollars of ongoing costs."

The Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) Program supports projects to restore damage to watersheds and drinking water infrastructure such as debris-clogged stream channels, undermined and unstable stream banks, jeopardized water control structures and public infrastructures and damaged upland sites stripped of protective vegetation by fire or drought. In Fort Collins, as a result of the historic High Park fire, the watershed supplying municipal water to the city has a high risk of water quality degradation, flood hazard and road washouts. Similarly, Colorado Springs is struggling with the exposure of a major utility pipe (which is usually buried) in the aftermath of this summer’s Waldo Canyon fire. With supplemental funding allocated to the EWP, these communities can improve these watersheds, protect critical infrastructure, and prevent future catastrophic damage from fires and floods.

The EWP program is under the jurisdiction of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Natural Resources and Forestry, a Subcommittee Bennet chairs. More information on the program can be found here: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1045263.pdf.

Earlier this week, Udall and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo) introduced legislation to boost resources for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. And two weeks ago, Udall, Bennet and U.S. Representatives Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) urged the president and Appropriations Committee leaders to include the Emergency Watershed Protection Program in his request to Congress.

Earlier this year, Udall and Bennet introduced an amendment to the U.S. House of Representative’s proposal to keep the government running for the next six months, commonly referred to as the Continuing Resolution, to secure emergency funding for the EWP program.

The Senate Appropriations Committee introduced the Supplemental Appropriation for Disaster Assistance bill based on a request from President Obama. It still must pass both the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Udall and Bennet are committed to fighting to maintain the funding throughout this process.

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