by Pam Zubeck
After failing to get federal money allocated to help prevent flooding following the disastrous 2012 fire season, Colorado's senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall haven't given up.
According to a news release, the two Democrats are continuing the fight by urging President Obama to allocate funds in his upcoming budget request for Fiscal Year 2014.
Last month, the House of Representatives removed Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) funding from a disaster relief bill. The funding would have helped Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Greeley protect drinking water supplies and watershed infrastructure, the news release said.
Colorado Springs Utilities stores water in Rampart Reservoir. The Waldo Canyon Fire burned right up to the reservoir, and Utilities officials have said the cost of restoration around it will run into the millions. The fire destroyed 345 homes within Colorado Springs (and killed two people) where homeowners are facing potentially devastating floods should there be a break in the drought.
More from the release:
In the letter, the Senators call on the President to address the current backlog in funding for the federal EWP program. The program is designed to support efforts to restore eroded watersheds and damaged drinking water infrastructure. Communities in Colorado are at a significant risk of floods, road washouts, and compromised drinking water due to last year’s wildfires and the state currently faces a backlog of nearly $20 million for projects funded through this program.
“It is nearly impossible to fund the necessary projects to repair this damage until Congress makes funding available through the Emergency Watershed Protection fund,” the Senators wrote. “The House’s failure to provide the necessary funds last month exposed the urgent need for leadership from the executive branch…By including EWP in the coming budget request, you will help ensure that the federal government, through its ongoing work to assist states in recovering from major disasters, leaves neither Colorado nor any other state behind.”
In late December, Senators Bennet and Udall successfully secured EWP funding in a Hurricane Sandy aid package that passed the Senate in a bipartisan vote. However, the House chose not to vote on that bill before adjourning its session on January 2 and the bill expired. In the new 113th Congress, the House drafted a new bill, excluding EWP resources for Colorado and other states hit by disasters around the country. Last week, the two Senators introduced a bill to restore these resources that were stripped.
As a result of the historic High Park Fire in Northern Colorado, the area supplying drinking water to communities including Greeley and Fort Collins has a high risk of flooding, road washouts, and water quality degradation. Similarly, in Colorado Springs, utility infrastructure has been badly damaged in the wake of last year’s wildfire season. EWP resources would help these Colorado communities protect their critical infrastructure and prevent future catastrophic damage from fires and floods.
Full Text of the Letter:
February 14, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We write to urge your Administration to address the current Emergency Watershed Protection fund backlog in your upcoming budget request for Fiscal Year 2014.
As you know from having seen the damage in person, the summer 2012 wildfires were devastating for Coloradans. The Waldo Canyon and High Park fires, both Stafford disasters, destroyed hundreds of homes, caused millions of dollars of damage to critical infrastructure, and tragically resulted in the loss of several lives. Some of the most pernicious and longest lasting damage from the fires came to the watersheds adjacent to Colorado communities. This destruction dramatically increased the risks of future flooding and the contamination of drinking water supplies for a number of municipalities.
It is nearly impossible to fund the necessary projects to repair this damage until Congress makes funding available through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) fund. Colorado currently faces a backlog of nearly $20 million for projects funded through this important program. And it isn’t just Colorado; the latest data from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which administers the fund, shows that there are 51 other projects across 19 states that require EWP funding.
We worked together to ensure that the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill that passed the Senate last December with bipartisan support included sufficient EWP funding for Colorado and other backlogged states. But we were disappointed that the House chose to strip this funding out of the package, leaving resources only for the states directly affected by Sandy. As a result, the final bill left Colorado and many other states behind.
The House’s failure to provide the necessary funds last month exposed the urgent need for leadership from the executive branch. We ask your Administration to include $61.9 million for EWP in your upcoming budget request. Based on the latest data from the Department of Agriculture, this amount will be sufficient to cover all EWP-associated projects across the country in need of funding in the aftermath of recent Stafford-declared disasters.
By including EWP in your budget, you will help ensure that the federal government, through its ongoing work to assist states in recovering from major disasters, leaves neither Colorado nor any other state behind. Thank you in advance for your consideration.
Michael F. Bennet Mark Udall
United States Senator United States Senator