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First round of Emergency Watershed Protection funds approved for water quality protections after fires

Sen. Michael Bennet speaks about the Colorado River watershed with local, state and fire officials during a tour of the Grizzly Creek Fire near the Grizzly Creek Rest Area on Thursday afternoon.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Only hours after a caravan of federal, state and local officials rolled through Glenwood Canyon Thursday to talk about the importance of funding post-fire watershed protections, the first check came in.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) announced Thursday evening that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has approved the first tranche of Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) funds, for $5 million worth of projects in Colorado to mitigate and recover from wildfires.

The funding will benefit EWP projects in Garfield, Mesa, Larimer and Grand counties, where major fires have been burning this summer. 

Earlier this week, Bennet was joined by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), along with U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) and Joe Neguse (D-Lafayette) in calling on the USDA to quickly approve EWP funding for wildfire recovery. 

“We’re deeply grateful to NRCS for quickly and efficiently approving these funds to mitigate damage in Colorado communities affected by wildfires,” Bennet said in a Thursday evening press release. “I’ve seen a lot of wildfires and disasters in the last decade that I’ve served in the Senate, and Coloradans always pull together in times of crisis to overcome the devastation and build back even stronger than before.”

Earlier that day, Bennet met with local, state and federal agency officials in Glenwood Canyon where the Grizzly Creek Fire is still burning for a watershed restoration tour of the Hanging Lake Tunnel complex and the Grizzly Creek watershed.

Among those joining the tour were Shoshana Lew from the Colorado Department of Transportation, Kevin Klein from Colorado Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and Rebecca Mitchell from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).

“CWCB staff is working on-the-ground with water scientists to monitor and study effects of the Grizzly Creek wildfire on watersheds and water supplies in Glenwood Canyon as well as impacts to flood risk,” Mitchell said during the tour. “As the wildfire’s ash and soot continue to flow downstream, we estimate that it will take up to seven years for affected watersheds to fully recover, and our team will be part of this recovery process for years to come.”

“The city of Glenwood Springs is so grateful to Representative Tipton, Senator Gardner and Senator Bennet and their staff for helping us to get the support we so desperately need,” Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa said. “Clean water is life and the functionality and resiliency of our infrastructure are critical for all rural communities in the West.”

Also attending for the tour were representatives from the White River National Forest, Colorado River District, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, USDA-NRCS, the city of Glenwood Springs, Garfield County and other local elected officials.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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