NM Congressional Democrats Announce Federal Government Will Fully Cover Emergency Watershed Program In Wake Of Historic Wildfires

Congressional News:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) and Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) are welcoming an announcement that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will cover 100 percent of the costs through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program for debris removal and other measures to address watershed impairments in designated areas of New Mexico impacted by recent wildfires.

EWP is a recovery effort aimed at relieving imminent hazards to life and property caused by floods, fires, windstorms and other natural disasters. The waiver to cover 100 percent of cost is available in these areas: Cooks Peak Fire in Colfax County; Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire in Mora and San Miguel Counties; McBride Fire in Lincoln County; and Nogal Fire in Lincoln County.

Sen. Heinrich requested that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack take this action during a key Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on May 10. Sen. Luján also requested that Secretary Vilsack take this action during a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on May 26. Rep. Leger Fernández requested President Biden’s and Secretary Vilsack’s commitment to cover 100 percent of the cost-share for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program in New Mexico.

“New Mexicans have learned all too well over the past decade that some of the hardest work to recover from wildfires occurs after they are extinguished,” Heinrich said. “We are seeing the costly toll the climate crisis and these record-breaking fires are having on our communities, our forests, and our watersheds. That’s why I’m pleased to see the USDA follow through on my request to cover costs that will help rebuild our communities and prepare for floods.”

“As New Mexico continues to battle historic wildfires, it’s critical that our communities are prepared for the flooding that is common after a fire,” Luján said. “Today, I am glad that the USDA heeded my call to cover the cost-share requirement for the Emergency Watershed Program which will help New Mexico landowners make critical repairs, clean debris, and provide protection from flooding. There is still more work to do to help New Mexicans recover from these devastating fires, and I am continuing to fight to pass my Hermit’s Peak Fire Assistance Act to strengthen federal assistance for New Mexico families and businesses.”

“I’ve been to the burn scars, heard from the property owners directly and consulted with the acequia parciantes,” Leger Fernández said. “Monsoon season brings a new threat – catastrophic flooding in the burn scar. The federal government must take responsibility for the destruction that the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire inflicted on our communities. As I told President Biden, the fire destroyed many private ranches and farms, and these communities do not have the funds to pay for the work to protect their homes and property from erosion and flooding. The announcement today will save these communities millions of dollars and it is the right thing to do. The work needs to be done as soon as possible, and I’ll keep pushing to make that happen.”

“We were deeply honored to welcome President Biden to New Mexico this week, and I am grateful for his Administration’s swift response to New Mexico’s devastating wildfires in light of the federal government’s special responsibility to make our state whole again,” Stansbury said. “As our firefighters battle these unprecedented wildfires, we must protect our precious water resources and prevent floods. Today’s announcement that USDA will be sending vital infrastructure funding to New Mexico for watershed restoration will help our state send deeply needed funds to urgent watershed protection work on the ground.”

The Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program, a federal emergency recovery program, helps local communities recover after a natural disaster strikes. The program offers technical and financial assistance to help local communities relieve imminent threats to life and property caused by floods, fires, windstorms and other natural disasters that impair a watershed.

New Mexico Congressional Democrats also recently welcomed an announcement from President Biden while he was in New Mexico that the federal government will waive the 25 percent non-federal cost-share for Categories A and B under the Major Disaster Declaration assistance he approved in the wake of severe wildfires. The New Mexico congressional delegation requested this cost-share waiver May 4.

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