DENVER — Amidst a devastating wildfire season in Colorado, including the largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today led U.S. Senator Cory Gardner and U.S. Representatives Joe Neguse and Scott Tipton in urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to quickly approve Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) funding to mitigate and recover from wildfire damage.
In a letter to Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey, Bennet and his colleagues requested an initial tranche of EWP funds for Colorado and encouraged the USDA to provide maximum flexibility to local project sponsors, including full consideration of matching requirement waiver requests, as state and local budgets remain strapped due to COVID-19.
“The resulting damage [from the wildfires] could threaten watersheds, private property, and infrastructure for years to come,” the lawmakers wrote. “Mesa, Garfield, Larimer, and Grand County are already in need of EWP assistance. The quick approval of EWP funds to mitigate post-fire flooding and damage in these areas now will pay dividends.”
In 2018, Bennet successfully secured $20.2 million in EWP funds for wildfire recovery projects in La Plata, Huerfano, Costilla, and Eagle counties. In 2014, Bennet secured $110 million in funding to address the Colorado EWP project backlog that resulted from wildfires the previous year.
As Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Conservation, Forestry, and Natural Resources Subcommittee, Bennet has consistently worked in Congress to improve EWP project delivery—urging the Government Accountability Office to provide recommendations for improvement and introducing the MATCH Act with U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) to expedite cleanup and increase flexibility for local matching requirements.
The letter is available HERE and below.
Dear Undersecretary Northey,
We write to request the expedient approval of Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) funding for projects in Colorado. As you know, communities in Colorado are looking to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) EWP program to mitigate damage from the significant wildfires this summer. The approval of an initial tranche of funding will help to quickly implement critical EWP projects that protect private property and critical infrastructure.
The USDA’s EWP program has been a vital resource to help our state recover from wildfires. This year, we have experienced multiple catastrophic fires, including the Grizzly Creek fire that closed I-70 for two weeks, and the Pine Gulch Fire, our largest in state history. The resulting damage could threaten watersheds, private property, and infrastructure for years to come. Mesa, Garfield, Larimer, and Grand County are already in need of EWP assistance. The quick approval of EWP funds to mitigate post-fire flooding and damage in these areas now will pay dividends.
We also encourage you to fully and fairly consider matching requirement waiver requests from local project sponsors in the days ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic is placing a significant strain on state and local budgets, but wildfire recovery cannot wait. We hope that the USDA will work closely with EWP project sponsors to provide maximum flexibility, where appropriate, to meet matching requirements and quickly implement projects.
Thank you for considering this request.