Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet introduced legislation today to boost resources for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program to help support the long-term recovery from this summer's devastating wildfires in Colorado. Additional EWP resources would be particularly helpful to the communities of Larimer and El Paso counties as they seek to stabilize their watersheds and municipal drinking water infrastructure following the wildfires.
The senators introduced the bill with a goal that it becomes included in the larger disaster relief measure Congress considers for Hurricane Sandy. The White House submitted a request to Congress late last week for $60.4 billion to help recover from the hurricane. The request includes $30 million in EWP funds for watershed and flood prevention operations. However, the scope of the administration's request is currently unclear. The measure would address a national backlog for an oversubscribed EWP program, ensuring urgently needed funding for other states that have been struck by presidentially-declared disasters, such as the Colorado wildfires, Hurricane Isaac, and flooding in the upper Midwest.
"Colorado experienced one of the most severe wildfire seasons on record this year. Even though the fires have long since been extinguished, communities in Larimer, Weld and El Paso counties are to this day grappling with the long-term threat to their water supplies and the ongoing threat of flash flooding," Udall said. "This legislation will help ensure that Colorado's wildfires and their lingering effects are not forgotten as Congress takes up how to allocate new disaster-relief funds. Failing to address these damages could ultimately cost Coloradans and all taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in the future."
"Eastern states should have the resources they need to recover from the destruction of Hurricane Sandy," Bennet said. "This summer, Coloradans also endured devastating disasters -- catastrophic wildfires in the midst of one of the worst droughts in decades. This bill will ensure adequate resources to help Colorado communities restore the stability of their watersheds and protect their drinking water infrastructure. The measure will also help other states struck by major disasters that have urgent EWP needs."
Udall and Bennet teamed up with members of the Colorado delegation last week in requesting the president include resources for EWP in any disaster assistance request to Congress. The Colorado senators made the same request of the Senate Appropriations Committee, while the members of the House made a similar request to House appropriators.
EWP 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.