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Department of Defense Appropriations Act - Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. President, I rise to speak in favor of two critical issues for my state--much-needed Emergency Watershed Protection Funds in the Supplemental Appropriation for Disaster Assistance and a Udall-Tester amendment that would add $653 million for U.S. Forest Service firefighting and wildfire prevention.

Let me begin by making one point absolutely clear: this is an emergency. Some have questioned the need for this funding and have asked why we wouldn't limit dollars just to Hurricane Sandy areas. The short answer is that it is the smart thing to do, the right thing to do and the fair thing to do. I know these fires may seem like just another story on CNN for some folks, but they have had devastating impacts in my state and throughout the west. Wildfires destroy communities and their devastation persists for decades.

The country faced the third worst wildfire season in the nation's history last year, with more than 9.2 million acres burned--including the Waldo Canyon and High Park fires, the two most destructive fires in Colorado history. Next year is projected to be much worse, yet the U.S. Forest Service will enter the 2013 fire season with a projected budget shortfall for preparing for and fighting these fires. They will also have only eight large air tankers compared to 44 in 2000--which puts them at a serious disadvantage in being able to attack these blazes. The Udall-Tester amendment would address this critical issue and provide $653 million to close the budget gap between what the Forest Service has and what they absolutely need. This is nothing to sneeze at, but for perspective this amounts to only one percent of the emergency funds that would be sent to support Hurricane Sandy recovery.

These funds will enable pre-positioning of ground crews, hot shots, and air support in places where wildfire risk is very high. This is a smart investment because early attack is critical to stop fires from becoming mega-fires that devastate communities, take lives and property, and threaten water supplies. It also helps ensure that the Forest Service doesn't have to rob other accounts such as timber, watershed, and wildlife programs. Raiding other Forest Service funds is robbing Peter to pay Paul: These other funds help eliminate dead wood and other fuels in our national forests, thus reducing future fire risks.

And the risks wildfires pose persist long after the final embers are extinguished. That is why we also are seeking to fully fund the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. Communities across this country--including many impacted by Hurricane Sandy--are at risk of catastrophic flooding and contaminated drinking water. This investment of $125 million in the bill before us is critical to help ensure that these communities do not face further debilitating and life-threatening impacts from these recent disasters.

In my state, the Emergency Watershed Protection Program is essential to protecting and restoring critical watersheds that are damaged by wildfires. This is especially true of the most devastating wildfires in Colorado's history last summer--which, if left unaddressed, could cause serious flooding, landslide and other risks that threaten the lives of residents in my state.

The High Park and Waldo Canyon fires tragically took lives, burned more than 100,000 acres, and led to catastrophic loss of property, including well over 300 homes in Colorado's second-largest city. But the initial impact could pale in comparison to the long-term impacts.

Without 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. Stabilizing and protecting these communities' watersheds is not only the right thing to do, it is also fiscally responsible.

If we do not quickly address these watersheds, taxpayers could face hundreds of millions of dollars in costs from what otherwise would have been a minor storm.

We need to fix what is wrong, and give these communities the peace of mind they deserve.

And I want to remind my colleagues that Congress has historically provided Emergency Watershed Protection (or EWP) assistance for earlier disasters before moving on to confront the needs created by subsequent events. As of December 10, 2012, an estimated $47 million is needed to mitigate damaged watersheds in the aftermath of other presidentially-declared Stafford-Act disaster areas in Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Utah, and Wisconsin. This is in addition to the $40 million needed for communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. We cannot leave these communities behind to suffer the effects of less recent disasters--whether they faced disaster from wildfire, hurricane or flood.

Mr. President, Coloradans unfortunately have already experienced some of these effects. For example, the usually crystal-clear Poudre River has been flowing black due to ash and runoff from the fire. This forced the downstream city of Fort Collins to shut off their water intake for over 100 days. Further downstream, the city of Greeley shut off their water intakes for 36 days and are still only able to take a small fraction of their normal intake.

This photo shows a water main that supplies 75 percent of the backup drinking water supply for the City of Colorado Springs--our second largest city. This pipe used to be buried 8 feet deep but is now exposed due to runoff from the fire area.

How much more of an emergency do we need, when our most basic resource--drinking water supplies for three of Colorado's largest cities and its families and businesses--is threatened?

I'll give you one more example. The flood potential in the burned areas is now 20 times higher than before the fire, which means that areas are experiencing 100-year floods from the same amount of rainfall that would have caused a 5-year flood before the wildfires.

Look at this photo. This is Highway 14, which is the major east-west artery through northern Colorado. This mudslide is one of many that occurred during one very minor rainstorm after the High Park fire. These mudslides on our major roads put people, property, and commerce at risk. Already, families in the Colorado Springs vicinity have received at least four flash-flood warnings since the Waldo Canyon 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.

I stand to support the recovery of the communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy. But, I want to ensure that my colleagues here understand the gravity of the situation we're facing in Colorado and other states that are also confronting disaster needs. If we do not act right away, communities across this nation will see unnecessary flood risks, contaminated water supplies, and even tragic deaths caused by our inaction.

So when someone asks whether EWP is necessary or critical, the answer emphatically is yes! For many of our communities in Colorado, this is their #1 priority in Congress and I'm not going to let their critical needs go unmet. I ask each of my colleagues to support this important funding in the bill before us today.

I thank you for your attention and request that my statement appear in the appropriate place in the RECORD.

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