Watershed protection money closer to state's hands

RYAN MAYE HANDY Updated: March 21, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: March 21, 2013

Colorado elected officials had another reason to celebrate Thursday after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the continuing resolution, locking in the federal budget as well as securing millions of dollars for watershed recovery projects in the wildfire-ravaged west.

After months of lobbying and bumping against congressional stumbling blocks, the cause of the Emergency Watershed Protection Program funds met with victories this week. On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate approved $65.5 million to be set aside for watershed recovery around the nation. The House, which had earlier approved $48.2 million of watershed protection money, approved the Senate’s vote on Thursday. The continuing resolution, which includes the watershed protection pot, now goes to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

But the money is not yet in the hands of Colorado’s officials.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service will prioritize the $65.5 million, and divide it amongst at least 10 states with presidentially declared disasters. Colorado applied for $17.6 million, which topped the request of New York state. The conservation service plans to split the state’s money between Larimer and El Paso counties, the sites of the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires. The money can only be used for watershed restoration and flood erosion control, and ultimately will fund only a portion of the wildfire restoration projects on the counties’ to-do lists.

With the approval of the funds, another phase of wildfire recovery begins — officials must decide where to allocate the money, and find ways to finance non-watershed related projects throughout the state.

Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261

Twitter @ryanmhandy

Get more updates on wildfire recovery at blogs.gazette.com/firenews

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