Mid-June, Governor Polis signed four bills into law that will boost rural economies, protect and restore watersheds, and help Colorado address droughts, wildfires, and floods.
SB21-234, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Cutter and Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, provides $3 million to the Department of Agriculture to ensure the state is better prepared to anticipate, mitigate, or respond to droughts. The impact of Colorado’s drought was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which has taken a severe economic toll on the agriculture industry. This bill will help the state plan for and mitigate future droughts and climate disturbances.
“Human-caused climate change is threatening rural economies and Colorado’s agriculture industry with increasingly severe droughts, wildfires, and climate events that we haven’t prepared for,” said Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County. “By working to mitigate climate disasters and investing in our state’s response, we will boost Colorado’s recovery and the economic resiliency of our rural and agriculture-based communities.”
“Colorado’s watersheds are critical for our economy and the health of our rivers and waterways,” said Rep Cathy Kipp, D-Fort Collins. “Recent wildfires, droughts, and our changing climate are threatening our watersheds and the economic activity that flows from them. I’m proud the governor signed my bill to invest $30 million to restore and protect our watersheds and sustain our economic recovery as we enter yet another potentially devastating wildfire season.”
Sponsored by Representatives Cathy Kipp and Marc Catlin R-Montrose, SB21-240, transfers $30 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the Watershed Restoration and Flood Mitigation Grant Program to help watersheds recover from the impacts of wildfire. The bill also sets aside funds to conduct a statewide watershed analysis that investigates the susceptibility of life, safety, infrastructure, and water supplies to wildfire impacts.
“The Rural Jump-Start Grant Program is a proven initiative that drives economic growth in rural and economically distressed communities by incentivizing employers to hire new workers or attracting new businesses,” said Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder. “The stimulus bill the governor signed today will help create jobs in rural Colorado and extend the Colorado Comeback to more communities and businesses, particularly in parts of our state that are being affected by the market transition away from coal to renewable energy.”
Sponsored by Representatives Judy Amabile and Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, SB21-229 invests $3 million in the Rural Jump Start Grant Program. The program helps economically distressed communities – particularly communities affected by the market transition away from coal to more renewable energy sources – attract new businesses and jobs. Of the grants available, new businesses can receive up to $20,000 for establishing operations in rural jump-start zones and up to $2,500 for each new job they create, while businesses establishing operations in coal transition communities (as identified in the Office of Just Transition Action Plan) can receive up to $40,000 as well as up to $5,000 for each new job they create.
“We just faced one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, we’re still in a severe drought, and we’re looking at another summer of high temperatures and potentially devastating wildfires,” said Marc Snyder, D-Manitou Springs. “The funding we’re providing in this bill will help Coloradans recovering from the pandemic protect their property from wildfires. This summer and in the years to come, we’ll have more resources and be better prepared because of the stimulus funds we’re investing today.”
“Climate change is causing increasingly devastating wildfires that hurt our economy, businesses and people across our state,” said Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Englewood. “Wildfire mitigation works. It protects businesses and homes and limits the economic devastation from these disasters. Investing in wildfire mitigation and our state’s response will help Colorado recover faster from the pandemic by putting people to work on fire mitigation projects and protecting communities from the economic aftermath of wildfire destruction.”
SB21-258, sponsored by Representatives Marc Snyder and Meg Froelich, creates the Wildfire Mitigation Capacity Development Fund in the Department of Natural Resources to support wildfire mitigation, expand workforce capacity through investments in Colorado Youth Corps Association and the Department of Corrections SWIFT program, coordinate cross-boundary wildfire mitigation efforts, facilitate engagement with other property owners, and connect priority wildfire mitigation projects with available resources. Additionally, the bill creates the Hazard Mitigation Fund to assist local jurisdictions in obtaining the matching funds required for certain federal hazard mitigation grants. Finally, the bill dedicates almost $30 million across various wildfire mitigation and response funds to help the state bolster wildfire prevention, detection, and response.
For more information on SB21-258, visit https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/sb21-258.