WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Mitt Romney and Michael Bennet (D-CO), along with Representatives Celeste Maloy (R-UT), John Curtis (R-UT), Joe Neguse (D-CO), and Yadira Caraveo (D-CO), today introduced the Watershed Protection and Forest Recovery Act, bipartisan legislation to help communities and water users protect their water supply after natural disasters on U.S. Forest Service (USFS) lands. The bicameral legislation would create a new Emergency Forest Watershed Program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to streamline recovery efforts and protect life, private property, and water resources downstream of America’s national forests.
“Over the last several years in Utah, we have seen the need for a program to streamline the funding process that restores water resources on U.S. Forest Service land,” said Senator Romney. “This was evidenced during recovery efforts from the Dollar Ridge Fire in 2018 when the Central Utah Water Conservancy District faced major obstacles in repairing its facilities. I’m pleased to team up with my colleagues to introduce the Watershed Protection and Forest Recovery Act to help our communities more efficiently recover from wildfires.”
“We need to make it easier for local water managers and the U.S. Forest Service to collaborate to restore the health of our watersheds following a natural disaster,” said Senator Bennet. “This common-sense bill cuts red tape and helps ensure that communities and landscapes recovering from wildfires don’t face unnecessary hurdles in their efforts to protect their drinking water.”
“Wildfires threaten Utah communities and their water supply every year,” said Representative Maloy. “A new Emergency Forest Watershed Program will be instrumental in protecting Utah’s private property and our water resources on U.S. Forest Service lands following such natural disasters. I’m proud to sponsor this bill in the House to help mitigate those damage and recovery costs moving forward.”
“In the face of devastating wildfires across the West, it’s clear we need a unified approach to protect our vital water resources,” said Representative Curtis. “The Watershed Protection and Forest Recovery Act bridges critical gaps, ensuring swift, effective recovery efforts for our national forests and safeguarding the water supply for communities downstream. I’m proud to support this essential legislation, reinforcing our commitment to the health of our watersheds and the safety of Utahns.”
“Across the West, our communities continue to grapple with devastating wildfires,” said Representative Neguse. “These wildfires put watersheds and the drinking water supplies for many of our communities at risk. Our bill, the Watershed Protection and Forest Recovery Act, aims to ensure that critical federal resources are available to assist communities address these watershed risks in the aftermath of catastrophic wildfires.”
“Protecting our watersheds is a commitment to safeguarding the very existence of our communities in Colorado. Unfortunately, wildfires, rainfall and changing climate are threatening the stability of the water in our state,” said Representative Caraveo. “I am glad to co-lead the Watershed Protection and Forest Recovery Act to help in the restoration and protection of the natural resources that provide drinking water for communities like the city of Greeley, and surrounding communities in Northern Colorado I am proud to represent.”
“We appreciate Senator Romney’s proactive approach to wildfire recovery efforts on U.S. Forest Service land. Utah has witnessed the disastrous effects of delaying mitigation efforts after wildfires. The ash-laden runoff after the 2018 Dollar Ridge Fire devastated the Strawberry River fishery and cost the Central Utah Water Conservancy District tens of millions of dollars to recover and upgrade its facilities. The Watershed Protection and Forest Recovery Act will help prevent similar disasters in the future,” said Redge Johnson, Executive Director of Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office.
Following devastating wildfires across the American West, water providers have encountered bureaucratic obstacles that limit their ability to protect the drinking water supply for communities downstream from the fire. Because the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Emergency Watershed Program was designed to help non-federal lands recover and the USFS Burned Area Emergency Response Program focuses on the protection of federal assets, drinking water supplies for communities downstream of National Forests are left at risk after a natural disaster. The Watershed Protection and Forest Recovery Act is designed to fill this gap.
Specifically, the Watershed Protection and Forest Recovery Act would:
- Create the Emergency Forest Watershed Program and authorize watershed recovery protection measures to protect downstream private property and water resources following natural disasters on USFS lands;
- Allow Tribes, states, local governments, and water providers to enter into agreements with USFS to implement watershed recovery protection measures;
- Speed up project timelines and require recovery project to be completed within two years after the conclusion of a natural disaster; and
- Fully fund projects on federal lands by waiving matching requirements.
Full text of the bill is available here.