USDA, Department of Interior Launch Pilot Project in Colorado to Safeguard Water Resource Infrastructure
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today applauded the announcement by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell of a federal, local and private partnership to reduce the risks of wildfire damage to the water supply in Colorado and other western states.
Through the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of the Interior will work together with local water users to identify and mitigate risks of wildfire to parts of our nation’s water supply, irrigation and hydroelectric facilities. Flows of sediment, debris and ash into streams and rivers after wildfires can damage water quality and often require millions of dollars to repair damage to habitat, reservoirs and facilities.
“Coloradans recognize the need to protect our precious water resources, especially as the state continues to experience severe drought conditions and increased risk of wildfires,” Bennet said. “Communities in our state have already witnessed the damaging effects that wildfires can have on our rivers, streams, and water supply. We know that the mitigation we conduct now saves us many more dollars in repair, cleanup and recovery down the road. Thanks to Secretaries Vilsack and Jewell for initiating this partnership. They’ve made a wise choice in selecting Colorado for their first pilot project.”
USDA’s Forest Service and Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation will kick off the new partnership through a pilot in the Upper Colorado Headwaters and Big Thompson watershed in Northern Colorado. The partnership will include the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado State Forest Service and builds off of past agreements between the Forest Service and municipal water suppliers, such as Denver Water’s Forest to Faucets partnership.
The Memorandum of Understanding signed today at Horsetooth Reservoir outside of Fort Collins, will facilitate activities such as wildfire risk reduction through forest thinning, prescribed fire and other forest health treatments; minimizing post-wildfire erosion and sedimentation; and restoring areas that are currently recovering from past wildfires through tree planting and other habitat improvements.
Bennet has worked tirelessly to attract critical federal resources to help combat wildfires and mitigate their effects. Bennet has called for the modernization of our air tanker fleet to fight wildfires, led efforts to secure Emergency Watershed Protection resources to help Colorado communities recover from last year's Waldo Canyon and High Park fires, authored key forest health and wildfire prevention provisions in the Senate Farm Bill and urged the President to expedite a request from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to issue federal major disaster declarations in response to the Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires. He also led efforts to bring federal assistance to Colorado following last year’s High Park and Waldo Canyon fires, including organizing a letter of support urging the President to support Governor Hickelooper’s disaster declaration request.