Post-wildfire erosion seen as huge threat to water supplies
By Summit Voice
FRISCO —Trying to win support for a farm bill that includes adequate disaster relief for Colorado’s drought-stricken farms, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet this week highlighted the devastating effects of last summer’s drought – one of the worst in decades – on Colorado’s agriculture industry and rural communities in a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing. The hearing was held to explore the toll weather disasters have taken on the country’s agriculture industry.
“We have now had two years in a row and it sounds like we’re going to have a third year of drought in our region,” Bennet said. “These conditions are forcing farmers and ranchers in Colorado to rely on disaster programs to make it from year to year. Producers in my state have stressed the need for certainty so they can appropriately manage their farms and ranches from season to season. Colorado’s economy depends heavily on the state’s agricultural industry, which is why I am committed to passing a long-term Farm Bill that provides certainty to Colorado’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities,” Bennet said.
At the hearing, Bennet introduced Dr. Roger Pulwarty, director of the National Integrated Drought Information System at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder. Pulwarty’s testimony discussed some of the reasons for the drier than normal conditions, how long they may last, and how NOAA is working with other federal agencies to provide accurate information that helps make decisions on the allocation of resources.
During the discussion, Bennet highlighted the importance of disaster programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, such as the emergency haying and grazing option that has assisted Colorado ranchers through the drought and the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program that helps support the restoration of eroded watersheds and damaged drinking water infrastructure. Bennet continues to fight for EWP resources to help Colorado communities recover from last summer’s devastating High Park and Waldo Canyon wildfires.
“We had the EWP funds in the Sandy bill that was passed by the Senate. Appropriately so because we are still trying to deal with the effects in Colorado of the wildfires brought on by the drought and other circumstances,” Bennet said. “When the spring snowmelt starts in Colorado, which it inevitably will even though we don’t have the snowpack we’d like, we will watch these hillsides wash into our streams. The effect on our producers could be very significant. It’s another case where people are playing games here instead of focusing on what’s going on at home.”
Bennet has been a vocal advocate for the Farm Bill, especially in light of the severe drought conditions affecting Colorado and other states. Last August, Bennet traveled across Colorado to visit with farmers and ranchers to see drought conditions firsthand. Some of his visits included Harman Brothers Farms in Otis, Hirakata Farms in Rocky Ford, Crowley County Ranch on the Eastern Plains, and Bagwell Ranch in the San Luis Valley.
Just last month, Bennet joined several of his colleagues on the Senate Agriculture Committee to reintroduce the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act in the 113th Congress. The bill is virtually identical to the Farm Bill passed last year in the Senate that enjoyed broad, bipartisan support and contained $23 billion in deficit reductions. The House of Representatives allowed that bill to expire when it failed to consider the Senate-passed bill or its own bill before the end of the year.