Udall, Bennet press fight for High Park Fire aid

U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall on Thursday urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to fund Colorado wildfire recovery efforts in an upcoming appropriations bill.

Colorado faces a nearly $20 million backlog for projects covered by the program, according to a letter Udall and Bennet wrote Sens. Barbara Mikulski, the committee chairwoman, and ranking member Richard Shelby.

“Some of the most pernicious and longest lasting damage from the fires came to the watersheds adjacent to Colorado communities,” the letter reads. “This destruction dramatically increased the risks of future flooding, and the contamination of drinking water supplies, for a number of municipalities.”

Repairing the damage would be “nearly impossible” without the funding, the letter reads.

Udall and Bennet introduced an amendment in a Hurricane Sandy aid bill last week, but it did not receive a vote. A vote on the appropriations bill is expected in March.

The Colorado senators worked with the Appropriations Committee late last year to include funding for the Emergency Watershed Protection program in a disaster recovery bill that passed the Senate.

However, House lawmakers did not vote on the bill, and it expired at the end of the 112th Congress. In the 113th Congress, the House drafted a new Hurricane Sandy aid bill without Emergency Watershed Protection aid for Colorado and other states hit by disasters.

“If we don’t deal with these problems now, we could be facing as much as five times the cost to deal with future flooding and damage.” Bennet said in a statement.

Even minor rainfalls or snow melts could cause mudslides and floods, destroying homes and infrastructure in Larimer, El Paso and Teller counties or send tons of ash and sediment into Fort Collins, Greeley and Colorado Springs water, Udall said.

“I hope my colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee will understand that Colorado cannot wait,” he said in the statement.

Northern Colorado cities have spent millions of dollars spreading straw on mountainsides to stabilize soil and stop soot from enter the Cache la Poudre River following last summer’s destructive High Park fire. They need millions of additional dollars to finish the job.

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