Measure that includes watershed cash gets Senate OK

By: RYAN MAYE HANDY
March 20, 2013
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	 Photo by Gazette file
Photo by Gazette file 

The U.S. Senate passed a budget resolution Wednesday that could make available $65.5 million for watershed protection in Colorado and other states recovering from disasters.

The money comes from the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP), and at least 18 states applied to receive a portion of the pot to finance watershed protection and erosion prevention. Colorado requested the largest share, about $17.6 million, to help repair watersheds damaged by the Waldo Canyon and High Park fires during summer 2012. El Paso County officials have identified $8.7 million worth of projects in the area that the money would fund.

A few more things have to fall into place before the money reaches Colorado. The Senate and the House each stipulated different amounts of watershed money and the whole program is tangled in a larger budget battle. The EWP is included in a continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown before March 27.

Only when that’s finalized can the money for watershed protection be sent to Colorado.

If the measure gets approved by both chambers, the Natural Resources Conservation Service will prioritize requests for the watershed money. Colorado could have to compete for the money, but officials with the NRCS are confident that the state’s needs will rank high.

The watershed money agreement was one of two disaster-related actions that were discussed by the Senate on Wednesday, according to a news release from the office of Colorado’s Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works approved the Water Resources Development Act, which would speed up post-disaster water-related projects for the Army Corps of Engineers. That measure is awaiting a final Senate vote.

Regardless of the tangles still ahead for the budget resolution, the Senate vote on EWP funding is a decided victory for a group of Colorado politicians that spent months fighting for the funds.

Money for the program was included in a failed bill that also would have paid for Hurricane Sandy cleanup. That measure died in end-of-the-year budget wrangling.

El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark along with Colorado Sens. Bennet and Mark Udall fought to keep the program alive.

“It’s very exciting for us to have gotten past all of this,” Clark said Wednesday.

Clark is relieved, but is bracing herself for more hurtles, she said.

“It’s not done until it’s done.”

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