Bennet, Udall Urge Appropriations Committee to Restore Wildfire Recovery Resources

January 31, 2013

Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall today urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to allocate resources for Colorado’s wildfire recovery efforts in a forthcoming appropriations bill to fund the government after March.

Bennet and Udall worked with the Appropriations Committee late last year to include funding for the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program in a disaster recovery bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support.  However, the House of Representatives chose not to vote on that bill, which expired at the end of the 112th Congress.  In the new 113th Congress, the House drafted a new bill, excluding EWP resources for Colorado and other states hit by disasters around the country. 

“Colorado communities are still recovering from last year’s devastating wildfires. It’s unfortunate that the House would not follow our lead in the Senate to include critical resources to stabilize our watersheds and protect our drinking water,” Bennet said. “If we don’t deal with these problems now, we could be facing as much as five times the cost to deal with future flooding and damage. Now Congress has another chance to do what’s right.”

“We have little time to address the serious and lingering effects of the 2012 wildfire season — which devastated communities and water supplies more than six months ago. Even minor rainfalls or snow melts could destroy homes and infrastructure with mudslides and floods in El Paso, Teller, and Larimer counties or send tons of ash and sediment into the water supplies for Fort Collins, Greeley and Colorado Springs,” Udall said. “I hope my colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee will understand that Colorado cannot wait. We are all in this together, and it is time for Colorado to be made whole.”

In the letter to Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski and ranking member Richard Shelby, the Senators called on the Committee to address the current backlog in funding for the federal EWP program. The program is designed to support efforts to restore eroded watersheds and damaged drinking water infrastructure. Communities in Colorado are at a significant risk of floods, road washouts, and compromised drinking water due to last year’s wildfires and the state currently faces a backlog of nearly $20 million for projects funded through this program.

“The Waldo Canyon and High Park fires, both Stafford disasters, destroyed hundreds of homes, caused millions of dollars of damage to critical infrastructure, and tragically resulted in the loss of several lives,” the senators wrote. “Some of the most pernicious and longest lasting damage from the fires came to the watersheds adjacent to Colorado communities. It is nearly impossible to fund the necessary projects to repair this damage until Congress makes funding available through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) fund.”

After the House excluded the funding for Colorado in its disaster recovery bill, Bennet and Udall introduced an amendment that would have allowed some EWP relief funds to go towards damaged watersheds in states hit by disasters other than Hurricane Sandy, including Colorado.

Full Text of the Letter:

January 31, 2012

Dear Chairwoman Mikulski and Senator Shelby:

We write to urge the Appropriations Committee to address the current Emergency Watershed Protection fund backlog in any upcoming appropriations measures to fund the federal government.

As we have emphasized previously, the summer 2012 wildfires were devastating for Coloradans. The Waldo Canyon and High Park fires, both Stafford disasters, destroyed hundreds of homes, caused millions of dollars of damage to critical infrastructure, and tragically resulted in the loss of several lives. Some of the most pernicious and longest lasting damage from the fires came to the watersheds adjacent to Colorado communities. This destruction dramatically increased the risks of future flooding, and the contamination of drinking water supplies, for a number of municipalities.

It is nearly impossible to fund the necessary projects to repair this damage until Congress makes funding available through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) fund.  Colorado currently faces a backlog of nearly $20 million for projects funded through this important program.  And it isn’t just Colorado; the latest data from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which administers the fund, shows that there are 51 other projects across 19 states that require EWP funding.

We were glad to work with your Committee to ensure that the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill that passed the Senate last December with bipartisan support included funding for EWP.  With your leadership, and the hard work of your Committee, that legislation included sufficient funding for Colorado and other backlogged states.  But we were disappointed that the House chose to strip this funding out of the package, leaving resources only for the states directly affected by Sandy.  As a result, the final bill left Colorado and many other states behind.

Congress has a history of appropriating EWP funding through omnibus appropriations bills and continuing resolutions, most recently providing $216 million to backfill EWP in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, which passed in November 2011.  As this Committee lays the groundwork for another continuing resolution or omnibus appropriations legislation to fund the federal government past the end of March of this year, we urge you to work with USDA to ensure adequate EWP funding for all projects responding to Stafford-declared disasters, regardless of the state in which the disaster struck. 

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

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