• Senate vote could grant Colorado millions for watershed repair

    Wed, January 30, 2013 by kayladnls with no comments

    El Paso County officials and Colorado senators have been on a months-long crusade to get millions of dollars from Washington, D.C. to help repair wildfire damage to watersheds across the state.  And it looks like their wishes might be granted — if only partially.

    Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved $48.2 million of Emergency Watershed Protection, or EWP,  funds that could be divided among 18 states who need them. This week, officials are waiting for the U.S. Senate to make a similar vote, but for $65.5 million, that could all but guarantee a few million funds for Colorado.

    The senate is expected to vote Thursday night, but the vote could be pushed back until Monday,  according to a spokeswoman for Senator Michael Bennet, one of two Colorado senators who has been championing the cause since last year.

    Originally, Colorado officials were hoping to siphon some money out of $125 million set aside in a Hurricane Sandy recovery bill.  But, the money was cut from the bill last year.  In the meantime,  local officials have been relying on other ways to fund restoration projects on the hillsides destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire.

    The new resolution would most likely only grant up to $65 million.

    Even if the EWP vote makes it through the senate, that is hardly the end of the negotiations, said El Paso Count Commissioner Sallie Clark.  Along with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Clark and other officials will be prioritizing the restoration projects in El Paso County to determine where the money will go, when and if they get it. Clark is hoping that the funds will be approved in time for the spring and summer rains, which could bring significant risk of flash flooding.

    Top on Clark’s list is flood prevention work in Williams Canyon, above Manitou Springs, she said on Wednesday. Officials in Larimer County are concerned about water quality if Greely and Fort Collins after local watersheds were heavily damaged by the High Park fire last summer.