USA — Colorado U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet are urging Senate Appropriators to provide emergency funding to support Colorado’s continuing recovery efforts in the aftermath of September’s destructive floods. The senators also requested additional resources for wildfire mitigation that would help avoid greater fire suppression and recovery costs in the future.
Udall and Bennet are requesting the resources from the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program, which is designed to support efforts to restore eroded watersheds and damaged drinking water infrastructure. The senators are also pushing for targeted funding through the Hazardous Fuel Reduction accounts, in order to prevent catastrophic wildfires and save the federal government money in the long-term.
“Colorado’s need for additional EWP funding…has increased dramatically in the past two months, as Coloradans begin the task of recovering from this fall’s historic flooding. As the state and a number of municipalities begin to rebuild and recover from this disaster, they also face an urgent need to stabilize riverbanks and re-channel waterways across a number of different streams that these floods significantly altered,” Udall and Bennet wrote to the Senate Appropriations Committee. “In addition, we also urge the Committee to free up additional resources for hazardous fuel reduction in order to reduce the frequency and severity of catastrophic wildfires…Additional funding for hazardous fuel reduction in the Forest Service budget, and an increase in funding for FEMA predisaster mitigation, can help avert far greater costs in the future, and prevent the devastation that occurs from disasters like the Colorado Waldo Canyon, High Park or Black Forest Fires of 2012 and 2013, all of which destroyed hundreds of homes.”
Udall and Bennet have led efforts to secure emergency assistance from federal agencies following devastating natural disasters like September’s floods and the wildfires that have ravaged the state over the past several years. They helped lead a delegation-wide effort that successfully lifted the cap on the amount of emergency transportation resources Colorado could access to rebuild damaged infrastructure from the floods. The senators also led the Colorado delegation to urge the President to quickly declare an emergency when flooding began to ensure that emergency funding was available for response and recovery efforts.
The senators also led Colorado’s Congressional delegation in successfully urging President Obama to designate the Black Forest and Royal Gorge Fires as major disaster areas and pushing the SBA to quickly approve a disaster declaration for the West Fork Fire Complex. They were also instrumental in securing Emergency Watershed Protection funds for areas affected by last year’s High Park and Waldo Canyon fires.
Read the full text of the letter below:
November 25, 2013
Dear Chairwoman Mikulski and Ranking Member Shelby:
We write to request urgently needed emergency funding for the state of Colorado in the coming appropriations process. First and foremost, we write to emphasize that in the wake of the destructive September flooding, Colorado’s need for supplementary emergency watershed protection (EWP) program funding has once again sky-rocketed. Second, we write to urge the Committee to include additional funding for wildfire mitigation, in order to avoid far greater losses – and costs – in coming years.
Colorado’s need for additional EWP funding, administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), has increased dramatically in the past two months, as Coloradans begin the task of recovering from this fall’s historic flooding. As the state and a number of municipalities begin to rebuild and recover from this disaster, they also face an urgent need to stabilize riverbanks and re-channel waterways across a number of different streams that these floods significantly altered.
Many of the projects are not eligible for reimbursement under public assistance provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Officials in Colorado have already identified projects in Larimer, Boulder, El Paso, Morgan, Logan, Adams, Weld and Sedgwick counties totaling at least $216 million that require EWP funding. Unfortunately, the program currently has under $25 million available nationally that has not yet been committed to ongoing projects or other states. With no regular appropriations mechanism for supplementing this funding stream, we ask that the Committee work with us to add or repurpose additional resources for the EWP program, so that flood recovery work in Colorado can proceed without unnecessary interruptions.
In addition, we also urge the Committee to free up additional resources for hazardous fuel reduction in order to reduce the frequency and severity of catastrophic wildfires. As you know, wildfires across the Western United States are a growing crisis. The six worst wildfire seasons in the past fifty years all occurred since 2000. Since 1980, wildfires have caused over $28 billion in economic losses. By any measurement, those losses are accelerating dramatically as wildfire seasons become steadily worse.
As a consequence of this trend, wildfire suppression costs have also escalated dramatically, quadrupling in the past 25 years. These suppression costs are crowding out funding for the mitigation and hazardous fuel reduction work that hundreds of thousands of forest acres desperately need. Studies consistently show that targeted hazardous fuel reduction and other forest health projects are some of the smartest investments the federal government can make, averting over $5 in future losses for every dollar invested now. Yet hazardous fuel reduction funding through both the Forest Service and the Department of Interior, and pre-disaster mitigation funding through FEMA, have been cut back significantly in recent years. Defunding hazardous fuel reduction programs is, inevitably, committing us to even higher fire suppression costs in future years.
We therefore request that the Committee address this cycle. Additional funding for hazardous fuel reduction in the Forest Service budget, and an increase in funding for FEMA predisaster mitigation, can help avert far greater cost in the future, and prevent the devastation that occurs from disasters like the Colorado Waldo Canyon, High Park or Black Forest Fires of 2012 and 2013, all of which destroyed hundreds of homes.
We recognize that the appropriations process for fiscal year 2014 is already well under way, and adding additional resources at this late stage could be a challenge. We nonetheless hope that the Committee will work to provide additional resources for both EWP and hazardous fuel reduction.