December 17, 2021

Neguse, Bennet Advocate for Increased Flexibility for Cameron Peak Watershed Recovery Work

Washington D.C.— This week, Congressmen Joe Neguse and Senator Michael Bennet sent a letter to the Department of Agriculture, urging them to clarify whether funds from the Emergency Watershed Program (EWP) can be used to restore watersheds on National Forest System (NFS) lands. Sent to Forest Service Chief Randy Moore and Natural Resources Conservation Service 

Chief Terry Cosby, the letter follows the Government Accountability Office’s recommendation for final clarification on the use of EWP funds on NFS lands. Moreover, the letter addresses bureaucratic hurdles in wildfire recovery and asks the Forest Service to facilitate the approval of EWP projects on federal lands, such as the still-unfunded pilot program seeking to restore Colorado’s Cameron Peak wildfire.

Thanks to ongoing advocacy from Congressman Joe Neguse and Senator Michael Bennet, $300 million for the Emergency Watershed Protection program was included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, enacted in November. An additional $275 million was secured through the disaster supplemental legislation enacted earlier this fall, and the pair is advocating for additional funding through the Build Back Better Act. 

In the letter, the lawmakers wrote: “EWP is the first and best source of funding for wildfire recovery of our nation’s watersheds. With larger and more intense wildfires due to a warming climate, EWP will only become more vital to safeguard lives and protect water quality.”

“Further delays to the restoration of these watersheds threaten additional lives and property, increase costs in the long run, and negatively impact drinking water quality in the watershed,” they continued. “We ask that you work to ensure communities can smoothly and quickly access EWP assistance after disasters—regardless of whether those disasters happen on private, state, tribal, or NFS lands— and clarify that these funds can be used on NFS lands.”

“The Cameron Peak Fire burned watersheds critical to Northern Colorado’s drinking water supplies. Debris and sediment flow from the burn area have taken lives, destroyed homes, and degraded water quality. Post-fire mitigation in the form of mulching and erosion control has proven effective in preventing further damages, but the costs of such efforts, nearly $100 million, far exceed local governments’ ability to pay,” said Adam Jokerst, Deputy Director for Water Resources, City of Greeley. “The NRCS Emergency Watershed Protection Program is invaluable in helping local communities address and recover from fire impacts. EWP funding is the first and best source of federal funding to address watershed-scale disasters and protect drinking water supplies.”

The letter was signed by Representatives Kathy Castor, Jason Crow, Diana DeGette, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerny, Tom O’Halleran, Jimmy Panetta, Ed Perlmutter, and Melanie Stansbury. The letter was also signed by Senators John Hickenlooper, Mark Kelly, Krysten Sinema and Ron Wyden . 

A full version of this letter is available HERE and below.

Dear Chiefs Moore and Cosby, 

We write today to urge you to address issues with the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP)program that are impeding local efforts to recover from wildfire and prevent further destruction.

We urge you to clarify explicitly that EWP funds can in fact be used on National Forest System(NFS) lands, and facilitate cooperation between your agencies to quickly approve EWP projects on NFS lands. This request is in line with a recent Government Accountability Office report on the EWP program, recommending additional clarification for the use of these funds on federal lands.

EWP is the first and best source of funding for wildfire recovery of our nation’s watersheds. With larger and more intense wildfires due to a warming climate, EWP will only become more vital to safeguard lives and protect water quality. It is unavoidable that wildfires will burn acrossareas with a patchwork of land ownership, including on NFS lands, and it is essential that this work can be completed on all of those lands without unnecessary limitations.

United States Department of Agriculture policy clearly states that EWP may be used on NFS lands. However, we have observed significant difficulties doing so in the aftermath of recent fires in Colorado and across the Western United States. We appreciate that the U.S. Forest Service recently approved a “pilot” project using EWP funds to restore affected federal lands in the Cameron Peak burn scar in Colorado, however that project remains unfunded, and further clarification for the EWP program is needed to prevent future unnecessary administrative delays.

Further delays to the restoration of these watersheds threaten additional lives and property, increase costs in the long run, and negatively impact drinking water quality in the watershed. It is imperative that communities recovering from disasters do not encounter unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles in their efforts to receive and apply EWP assistance in recovery.

We ask that you work to ensure communities can smoothly and quickly access EWP assistance after disasters—regardless of whether those disasters happen on private, state, tribal, or NFS lands— and clarify that these funds can be used on NFS lands. 

Thank you for your consideration of this request, and we look forward to continuing to work with you.