by Pam Zubeck
Devastating wildfires last year, including the Waldo Canyon Fire, have created a lot of headaches for property owners near federal forest lands, as well as for cities who rely on mountain reservoirs for water supplies.
That's why Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., promoted adding $125 million for emergency watershed protection to the disaster funding bill to support Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.
That allocation was contained in the Senate bill, which expired on Tuesday when the House of Representatives adjourned for the year without acting on the bill.
The money now has to be included in the House version if the funding is to be made available, which won't happen until after the new Congress is sworn in later this month.
“In the West, we all know how precious water is — especially right now during the worst drought in years,” Bennet said in a news release. “That is why the Colorado delegation came together in a bipartisan and bicameral way to fight for these valuable resources at the end of the last Congress. The EWP program can help Colorado communities that are recovering from the devastating fires this summer, including damages that threaten water supplies and increase the risk of flooding. The Senate showed bipartisan support for Colorado and other states struck by disaster and I urge the House of Representatives to include these resources as well.”
Colorado Springs Utilities relies heavily on Rampart Range Reservoir, where fire crept to its shortline during the Waldo fire in June and July. Mitigation there will potentially cost millions of dollars in coming years.
In a statement on his website, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., joined Bennet in expressing concern about the House's inaction.
I am concerned that, despite weeks of bipartisan work on this critical disaster legislation, the House has declined to even consider this proposal to fund watershed remediation efforts in Colorado and across the West. Confronting the lasting effects of the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires is the fiscally responsible approach and could save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over the long term.
If the House does not finish its work, we will need to start over from scratch in the new session of Congress. Even if the House declines to provide this timely assistance, I remain committed to helping the communities whose critical water supplies continue to suffer because of last summer's devastating and record-breaking wildfires. I will work with my colleagues of both parties to ensure the Emergency Watershed Protection Program is not forgotten in the new year.
The EWP money would be used in part to repair watershed damage in El Paso, Larimer and Weld counties, Bennet's press release said.
Other lawmakers who supported the allocation include Reps. Lamborn, Jared Polis, and Cory Gardner.
The EWP program falls under the jurisdiction of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Natural Resources and Forestry, a subcommittee Bennet chairs.