Funds for watershed restoration and protection cut from disaster relief bill
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — The refusal by the U.S. House to fund disaster relief for Colorado communities hit by wildfires raises an equity issue, according to Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who said Americans from different regions must help each other when it comes to bouncing back from natural disasters.
“I am exceptionally disappointed that the House stripped out wildfire relief from this disaster assistance package,” Udall said. “But the House’s lack of action won’t stop us. I plan to continue to find any means available to secure help for Colorado. The Colorado wildfires occurred more than six months ago, well before the Hurricane Sandy emergencies, and should not have to continue to wait to be addressed. I plan to continue to remind Washington that we are all in this together.”
An amendment he and Sen. Michael Bennet introduced in the Senate would have restored funds for communities in El Paso, Larimer, Teller and Weld counties to repair their drinking water infrastructure damaged during the 2012 wildfires.
“The threats wildfire pose persist long after the final embers are extinguished. Coloradans living in and around the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires know that the earth was burned down to bedrock. Even minor rainfalls or snow melts could potentially send tons of ash and sediment into our water supplies and destroy homes and infrastructure with mudslides and floodwaters,” Udall said.
“It’s really unfortunate, given the history we have in this country to come together to aid a community in need following a disaster, that the House would not follow our lead in the Senate to include critical resources to stabilize our watersheds and protect our drinking water,” Bennet said. “Simply put, the House left Colorado and many other states struck by major disasters behind. Despite this, I am not going to oppose this bill because the victims of Hurricane Sandy desperately need this aid.
“Securing resources for the Emergency Watershed Protection program will remain a top priority for Senator Udall and I. We’ll continue to do everything we can to make sure that our Colorado communities that are still reeling from last summer’s wildfires receive the resources they need,” Bennet added.
Udall and Bennet introduced their amendment after the U.S. House of Representatives failures this year to include Emergency Watershed Protection funds for Colorado in the disaster-relief bill and last year to pass legislation Udall and Bennet championed that included wildfire-relief assistance.
The amendment does not add a single cent to the bill and instead would have reversed the House’s decision to exclude Colorado from receiving Emergency Watershed Protection Program funds. The amendment would allow some of the funds to be used for other watershed projects across the country, including repairing drinking water supplies affected by 2012 wildfires.
Last month, Udall and Bennet introduced legislation to boost resources for the EWP Program. And in November, Udall joined with Bennet and Representatives Jared Polis, Doug Lamborn and Cory Gardner to urge the president and Appropriations Committee leaders to include the EWP Program in the Hurricane Sandy disaster supplemental.