Sen. Michael Bennet wants to strengthen the watersheds that help protect clean drinking water

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet speaks at City Park in Denver, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, at an event to draw attention to passage in Congress of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Sen. Michael Bennet is making a push to increase protections for watersheds that play a critical role in ensuring clean drinking water for communities across the country.

He’s introducing a bill, called the Headwaters Protection Act, with Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho to strengthen two programs the U.S. Forest Service uses to protect watersheds.

“We need to pass this legislation to protect critical water resources for downstream communities and make our forests more resilient to wildfire, drought and a changing climate,” said Bennet in a statement.

He added the Western way of life and the economy depend on strong stewardship of forests and watersheds.

The bill reauthorizes the USFS’s Water Source Protection Program (WSPP), which helps fund projects that prevent pollution at the source, usually by restoring forest health and watersheds. It would increase funding for the program to $30 million per year for the next five years for work done in partnership with local communities, water utilities or agricultural producers. WSPP also tries to prioritize projects that focus on drinking water or improve resilience to wildfire or climate change.

When it comes to the other USFS program, the Watershed Condition Framework (WCF), the bill would also authorize $30 million in funding per year, again through fiscal year 2028, and ensure any management work does not result in long-term degradation to watershed health.

“Protecting our natural resources and the environment is a collaborative effort at every level,” Crapo said.

The Republican senator stressed that collaboration will benefit small, rural and disadvantaged communities and tribes without exerting federal control over private lands.

As Congress works on the Farm Bill, Bennet, who heads the Senate Agriculture Committee’s forestry subcommittee, is pushing to make sure this new bill is included in the agriculture and food policy legislation, which many hope will pass by the end of the year.

Still, given the flat spending expected from Congress this next year, it may be tough to get any additional funding appropriated, especially as some Republicans seek to cut even further.

Other sponsors of the bill include fellow Democrats Sen. John Hickenlooper, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Luján, Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly and Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho.

It also has support from Colorado leaders, including Gov. Jared Polis. 

“Coloradans have a responsibility to steward the vast water resources that originate in the Colorado Rockies," he said. “Healthy watersheds are the foundation of our way of life in our state, but also the livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans living downstream beyond our borders.”