Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Coalition pushes for flood mitigation money for burn area

BARBARA COTTER Updated: January 8, 2013 at 12:00 am

An effort to nab $19.8 million in federal funds to pay for flood mitigation and repair Colorado watersheds damaged by last summer’s wildfires is back to square one.

In late December, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would have included $125 million in Emergency Watershed Protection program dollars to tackle disaster-related repair projects throughout the U.S. Some of that money was expected to come to Colorado for watershed repair and flood mitigation work in El Paso and Larimer counties.

But the House failed to act on the measure before its last session ended, and the bill expired.

“Now we have a new Congress, and we have to start again from scratch,” said Adam Bozzi, spokesman for Sen. Michael Bennet.

To help speed things along, a coalition of business and government leaders from El Paso County is pushing Colorado’s congressional delegation to support a House bill drawn up with the primary purpose of funding relief efforts in the areas hit by Superstorm Sandy. But Emergency Watershed Protection funding may be included in an amendment.

“We need to make sure that amendment and the bill has the language and resources to address this issue,” said Joe Raso, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Business Alliance, which is part of the coalition. “We want to make sure our delegation — our House delegation — does what’s necessary to make that happen, and if not, what are the additional steps they’re going to take to get the necessary funding we requested? We need those dollars.”

Colorado Springs Utilities also has been involved in trying to procure the funds, and while it’s not clear how much might funnel into the Pikes Peak area or how much any one entity might get, the city utility would use the money to pay for about $12 million in repair, flood mitigation, erosion control and drainage projects.

Many of the projects are tied to a thunderstorm that hit the burn area in July. It exposed a major utility pipe and caused severe erosion that, if not addressed, could taint water feeding into the city’s biggest water treatment plant and allow sediment to infiltrate the stormwater system.

“Any funding received by Colorado Springs Utilities would be used to reduce flooding, sedimentation and debris flow impacts on infrastructure and facilities in the Waldo Canyon fire burn area critical to collecting, storing and conveying our community’s water supply,” said utilities spokesperson Patrice Lehermeier. “This includes projects like sediment traps — ‘pits’ that collect sediment and slow storm flows in the basin.”

Some of the work was done last year and absorbed into the 2012 budget. The rest will come out of the 2013 budget.

“Any federal assistance would be a great help,” she said.

Raso said failure to do the work could have long-term consequences for the region.

“The bottom line is, if we don’t get an appropriation through this program, we run the risk of future flooding in the burn scar area, with continued impact on our infrastructure, road closures due to mudslides, and an impact on residential areas from mudslides, and all this causing business interruption,” Raso said. “There’s a chance our regional economy will be damaged if we can’t get this addressed.”

Colorado’s two senators, Bennet and Mark Udall, have pushed for watershed protection funds, and three representatives — Doug Lamborn and Cory Gardner, both Republicans, and Jared Polis, a Democrat — signed a letter in November asking House committee and subcommittee leaders to include $19.8 million in funding as they considered emergency funds for Sandy relief.

But it’s not clear whether Lamborn is taking an active role in pushing for the funds in the new House session. Asked whether Lamborn would lead the effort or support it, spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen replied via email:

“Congressman Lamborn welcomes everyone’s input on this issue and is listening to concerns as he studies the details of this bill and its proposed amendments.”

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