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Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. President, I rise to speak on the amendment I have filed to the House continuing resolution, House Joint Resolution 117, which we are currently considering.

I understand that House and Senate leadership came to an agreement that seeks to keep the government running for the next 6 months and I want to applaud their willingness to work in a bipartisan fashion to reach an agreement that avoids a government shutdown. Still, after the House passed this funding bill, I was greatly concerned that emergency funding for Colorado and other states impacted by natural disasters this year was left out.

In my state, these funds are essential to protecting and restoring critical watersheds that were damaged by the most devastating wildfires in Colorado's history--which if left unaddressed present serious flooding, landslide and other risks that threaten the lives of residents in our state.

My amendment would provide the U.S. Department of Agriculture $27.9 million in emergency funding to mitigate watershed damage through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, or EWP, in areas that have been presidentially declared disaster areas as authorized under the Stafford Act.

As of September 18, 2012, the USDA estimated $126.7 million in funding needs for EWP projects in 15 States. Of that total, $27.9 million is needed to mitigate the aftermath of presidentially declared disaster areas in Louisiana, Florida, Oklahoma and Colorado, as authorized under the Stafford Act. Currently, Stafford Act funds for EWP have been depleted and as I have noted the House Continuing Resolution provided no emergency funds for EWP. Mr. President, the need for this amendment to provide emergency funding is critical and let me tell you why.

The two most devastating Colorado fires this season, High Park and Waldo Canyon, burned more than 100,000 acres and led to the catastrophic loss of property and regrettably loss of life. Now as Coloradans pick up the pieces, the burned and barren areas present an additional threat.

Without site rehabilitation and restoration, the watersheds that provide municipal and agricultural water supplies are at risk from landslides, flooding and erosion, which could result in serious infrastructure damage, water supply disruptions and even loss of life.

Coloradans unfortunately have already experienced some of these effects. For example, in the Poudre River, which drains part of the area burned by the High Park fire, the ash and runoff from the fire caused the water flowing into drinking water filtration plants to turn black. This forced the downstream city of Fort Collins to shut off their water intakes for over 100 days and further downstream the city of Greeley was forced to shut off their water intakes for 36 days and use only a small fraction of their normal intake for an additional 38 days.

How much more of an emergency need do we have to show when our most basic resource--drinking water--is threatened?

I will give you one more example. After the devastating Waldo Canyon Fire that burned several homes in Colorado Springs and surrounding areas, the flood potential in the burned areas is now 20 times higher than before the fire. So now folks in the burned area and others downstream could see a 100-year flood from the same amount of rainfall that would have caused a 5-year rainfall before the wildfires occurred. Already property owners in the Colorado Springs vicinity have received at least four flash-flood warnings since the fire. The need for stabilizing this ground and restoring the burned areas on both federal and private land is critical to public safety, public health and the prevention of another disaster.

This is why I have filed an amendment to provide additional emergency funds to the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. This program provides funding and technical support to restore and stabilize soil in critical watersheds in the aftermath of severe wild fires and other natural disasters, such as floods and hurricanes--which are also important to many members from our coastal states.

I understand that there will not be an opportunity to amend the pending bill as a result of an agreement made with the House to avoid a government shutdown, so I will not attempt to call up my amendment. But, I want to ensure that my colleagues here understand the gravity of the situation faced by those who supply safe drinking water to the people of Colorado, by those who store water in our reservoirs to irrigate, and by those who fear a rainfall could devastate their livelihoods again after already experiencing significant loss from wildfire.

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