U.S. Senator Bennet is pushing for funds for wildfire mitigation #codought

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If snow doesn’t fall many are worried about the upcoming fire season. U.S. Senator Michael Bennet learned on Monday that the effects of the 2012 fire season are still with us and will be for the foreseeable future. Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s office:

During a visit to the Greeley-Bellvue Water Treatment Plant today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet highlighted the need for federal resources to protect drinking water in the wake of last summer’s wildfires and urged the House to take action.

“Colorado communities are still reeling from the effects of last year’s devastating wildfires,” Bennet said. “These resources for the Emergency Watershed Protection program are critical as our communities work to safeguard and rebuild their water infrastructure.”

“Just a few weeks ago in the Senate, we successfully passed a disaster recovery package that included resources for Colorado. Now the House needs to act.”

Bennet’s visit comes a day before the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a Hurricane Sandy disaster aid package. A similar package passed the Senate in late December and included $125 million for the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program that Senator Bennet, along with Senator Mark Udall, helped secure. However, the House of Representatives failed to vote on the bill before adjourning its session on January 2. Now in a new Congress, there is no guarantee the EWP funding will be included in the House’s version of the bill.

During today’s visit, Bennet, local experts and leaders from Greeley, Fort Collins and Larimer County discussed the region’s work to preserve and protect watersheds that are at risk due to last season’s wildfires. The wildfires damaged watersheds throughout the state, increasing the risk of flash flooding and road washouts and compromising clean drinking water supplies.

The federal EWP program is designed to support efforts to restore eroded watersheds and damaged drinking water infrastructure. In addition to helping secure the $125 million in EWP funding in the aid package that passed the Senate in late December, Senator Bennet led efforts in November to urge President Obama and Congressional Appropriators to include EWP funding in a Hurricane Sandy disaster recovery package.

The EWP program falls under the jurisdiction of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Natural Resources and Forestry, a subcommittee Bennet chairs.

Here’s a report from Pamela Dickman writing for the Loveland Reporter-Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

“We went through hell this summer, and the last thing we need is a bunch of floods that turn the river black,” Bennet said referring to wildfires across Colorado in 2012 during a visit to the Greeley-Bellvue Water Treatment Plant on Monday. Instead, he urged his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives to approve $20 million in emergency watershed money for Colorado to help protect water, roads and residents from the increased risk of flooding because of the fires…

The Senate passed a bill with $125 million in Emergency Watershed Protection money, including about $20 million for Colorado, in late December, but the House failed to vote before adjourning its session Jan. 2. Now, a new Congress is in session, and Bennet wants them to add the money for Colorado back into a Hurricane Sandy disaster package. The decision is expected Tuesday.

And while Bennet cannot predict what will happen, he urged local elected officials and residents to contact their U.S. Representatives and plead for money to help with additional protection measures. “It’s frustrating to hear talk about being fiscally responsible, when they’re creating a set of circumstances that will be much more expensive,” said Bennet.

More coverage from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:

The High Park Fire-charred slopes above the Poudre River have created an ongoing emergency situation for homes, highways and drinking water supplies. If Congress doesn’t commit money to fix the problem now, cautioned U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, it’s going to cost much more to fix it later.

That was Bennet’s warning Monday to Greeley and Larimer County officials at the Greeley water treatment plant in Bellvue the day before the U.S. House of Representatives was expected to decide what additional funding might be included in a Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill.

Between $17 million and $20 million are needed to stabilize fire-ravaged slopes in Colorado, money that would help prevent tons of sediment from washing into the Poudre River and mucking up the Fort Collins and Greeley water treatment plants, both of which take water from the Poudre, Bennet said.

If emergency funding isn’t approved, the cost of restoring roads, water treatment plants and other infrastructure damaged by future flooding and sediment washing off the slopes may be up to five times as much money needed to fix the problem today, said Greeley Mayor Tom Norton…

Bennet said he has given up predicting what the U.S. House will do [ed. emphasis mine], but he had scant optimism that the money would be included in the bill today.

From KUNC (Nathan Heffel):

Holding a beaker filled with Poudre River water polluted black with soot and ash from the High Park wildfire, Senator Bennet said the critical funding should be included in a second Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill being considered by the House Tuesday.

“We went through hell this summer here, with these fires. And the last thing we need is a bunch of floods that end up turning our river water black,” Bennet says. “This is a huge problem for Greeley, it’s a huge problem for Fort Collins, it’s also a huge problem for Colorado Springs.”

The soot and ash forced the city of Greeley and Fort Collins to significantly cut their use of the Poudre River after last summer’s fire.

Bennet and Colorado Senator Mark Udall successfully included the watershed protection funding in a Senate approved Sandy disaster relief bill late last year. However, in a surprising move, the House failed to bring that bill to a vote effectively killing it. Bennet says the delay is frustrating…

There is no guarantee the funding will be included in the House version of a Sandy relief bill. Bennet says he will reintroduce the issue in the Senate if the house fails to act.

From Northern Colorado 5 (Alex Ruiz):

The sound and sight of fire was all too familiar to Northern Colorado residents back in June and the sting of the High Park fire may be getting farther and farther in people’s memories, but environmentalists say this is just the start No matter where you go, water is a hot commodity, but it’s especially important when the main source of drinking water the Poudre River and Horsetooth are contaminated with fire debris, and because of the drought we haven’t had a whole lot of fresh water to wash out the old.

Lawmakers spoke to Colorado US Senator Michael Bennet at the Bellevue-Greeley water plant showing him the poor conditions of the water and asking what the federal government can do to help. Those in attendance included the Mayor of Greeley, Tom Norton, Greeley’s Director of Water Suppply, Jon Monson, and Suzanne Bassinger who is the designated high park fire recovery manager. And although they all serve in different districts and counties, they all highlighted the importance of getting funds to help with water recovery.

More stormwater coverage here.

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