Coffman Urges the President to Increase Wildfire Prevention Funding
(Washington, D.C.) On October 21, U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) sent a letter to the President pressing him to increase funding for the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership in his Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request.
The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership was formed last year when the Departments of Agriculture and Interior established a framework to partner with local entities to reduce the risks of wildfire upon Western communities and their water supplies. In July 2014, under this arrangement, the Departments of Agriculture and Interior announced $187,500 to Colorado in order to fund forestry work around the Colorado-Big Thompson and Fryingpan-Arkansas projects. These projects use diversions, tunnels, pipes, dams and reservoirs to carry water under the Continental Divide to the Front Range of Colorado. The funding will be used to thin forests and clear hazardous fuels around a reservoir above Estes Park and for forest thinning around Turquoise Reservoir and the water collection system in the surrounding watershed. This will help to prevent and mitigate the devastating effects that future fires can have on our water resources and the communities that depend upon them.
“Colorado is a state blessed with many natural resources, but some of the most important are our forest lands and watersheds,” Coffman wrote in the letter. “These are vital resources for the economy and quality of life for many of our families and businesses. We must take all necessary steps to protect our forests and our watersheds on public lands from catastrophic wildfires and invasive species.”
The Bureau of Reclamation funds the Partnership through its WaterSMART program. The Department of the Interior committed $152,000 to the Partnership during its first year, and followed up by committing an additional $187,500 in July 2014. Coffman’s goal is to see the funding for the Partnership doubled for Fiscal Year 2016 to protect watersheds and forests from the dangers of wild fires, drought and invasive species.
“I greatly appreciate Congressman Coffman’s leadership in protecting our forests,” expressed Mayor Steve Hogan of Aurora, Colorado. “Healthy forest lands and watersheds are critical to protecting Aurora’s water supply. I look forward to working with Congressman Coffman and others to secure the necessary funding for this critical program.”
The Front Range of Colorado’s municipal water supplies suffered greatly as a result of flooding, erosion and sediment deposition after the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire, the 2000 Bobcat Fire, the 2002 Hayman and Schoonover fires, and the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire. The Buffalo Creek fire and the subsequent debris flows from flash floods deposited mud, ash and decomposed granite in Strontia Springs Reservoir, requiring significant rehabilitation efforts. Moreover, the storage capacity of the Reservoir was reduced by 15 percent in the months following the fire. The Hayman Fire burned 138,000 acres of forest, and destroyed 133 homes and 466 outbuildings at an estimated cost of $238 million. The Waldo Canyon fire burned the watershed above Colorado Springs, resulting in the death of two individuals, the loss of 346 homes, over $450 million in insurance claims, and significant damage – as a result of post-fire storms – to utility infrastructure.
“If we are to avoid more of these devastating wildfires, more funding for wildfire prevention is needed,” wrote Coffman. “Doing so will bolster the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior’s abilities to protect our natural resources and our communities.”