STATEMENT OF SENATOR BOB GRAHAM
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Hearing on Water Resources Development Act
June 23, 1998

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, and guests. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the critical importance of the Water Resources Development Act of 1998 for the State of Florida.

As you know, water issues in Florida cover the gamut, including everything from coastal protection to inland water quality management, from statewide drought to statewide flooding. Our history dealing with water resources has caused some of our own problems that we seek to correct today.

In the Water Resources Development Act of 1998, there are many, many critical items for the State of Florida. This morning, I would like to highlight three of these items including shore protection policy, alternative water source development, and the Everglades and South Florida Ecosystem Restoration.

In the area of shore protection: The Administration's policy the last several years has been to discourage federal involvement in new shore protection projects. Section 227 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1996 specifically authorized federal involvement in the protection, restoration and enhancement of sandy beaches, including beach restoration and periodic beach renourishment. Regardless of Congressional action in this critical area, the Administration has continued to consider shore protection projects a low priority and has declined to budget for new projects.

I am proposing legislation for inclusion in WRDA 98 that will modify the current shore protection paradigm by increasing the state's role while still providing for a federal role in shore protection. I am proposing that criteria be established for the concept of an eligible state. An eligible state would be one which has been accepted by the Secretary of the Army as meeting two statutory requirements.

The first requirement is organizational. A state must establish regional shore protection entities which conform to the natural shoreline of the state. Normally this would mean between major shoreline cuts such as harbors. For instance, in South Florida, a natural region might be that between the Port Everglades and the Port of Miami. These regional entities would have the responsibility for establishing priorities among coastal renourishment projects within their region, and to be the local sponsor for those projects which were recommended. The state must also establish a state entity to oversee the regional entities for the specific purpose of establishing statewide priorities among those projects that are recommended by the regional agencies . The states will be allowed considerable latitude as to how to structure both the regional and state organizations, the method of selecting membership, the relationship with other state agencies and the specific geography of the regional entities.

The second requirement is financial. To be eligible for federal assistance, each state would have to submit a financing plan for each proposed shore protection project. The financing plan will be a part of the project cooperation agreement and must assure that the non-federal share for initial construction and any future renourishments be securely financed by the state. The non-federal share of the initial and future project costs will be computed in accordance with existing law. However, the Secretary of the Army will be required to give priority to projects for which a state increases the non-federal contribution beyond that required by law. The priority of the project for funding will be determined by the size of the increase (by percentage) of the non-federal share.

Current law provides that one hundred percent of the cost of preventing or mitigating shore erosion attributable to federal navigation projects or other federal activities be borne by the federal government. Current law also requires the Secretary of the Army to give preference to these type of projects. Unfortunately, due to past decisions by the federal government many local entities have lost confidence in the federal government's ability to accurately assess the non-federal cost of a project. Many local communities do not see the federal government serving as an honest broker that upholds the interests of all parties concerned. Instead, many communities feel the federal interest is being held above the local interest to such an extent that some have resorted to litigation against the federal government. In an effort to restore confidence in the federal government's role as an honest broker, I am proposing that an independent board be established to determine the percentage of a shore protection project attributable to federal activities. This board shall consist of one person appointed by the Secretary of the Army from the Coastal Engineering Research Laboratory and two persons appointed by the Governor of the State in which the project is located. One of the individuals appointed by a state's governor shall be from academia and shall have outstanding credentials in shoreline and coastal systems. The other individual appointed by a state's governor shall be an official within the state entity described earlier under the eligible state concept. The independent board will be responsible for approving or modifying the percentage of the project attributable to federal activities.

The legislation I have proposed for shore protection policy will build upon the existing system by adding necessary policy changes that will allow the Secretary of the Army to administer a more effective program. The legislation will provide a framework and incentive for greater state and less federal participation. This will allow limited federal resources to stretch further and will ultimately allow more shore protection projects to move forward.

In the area of alternative water supply: One of the unique aspects of the Florida water system is that we frequently undergo periods of drought and periods of flooding. This is the nature of a system that has been modified by human manipulation of natural flowways. In the State of Florida, our growing population coupled with the need to protect our natural systems has created a water quality challenge. From 1995 to 1996 Florida added 260,000 new residents, or the equivalent of four new Daytona Beaches. Between 1980 to 1995, Florida's public water supply needs increased 43%, more than double the national average of 16%. This shows no signs of slowing down. Today, Florida continues to grow at the rate of more than 800 people per day.

Many other states on the eastern seaboard face similar challenges. For example, a recent article in New Jersey Monthly stated that New Jersey leads the nation in the percentage of land mass that is classified as having a high vulnerability for serious water quality problems. According to the U.S. EPA, more that 66% of that state falls into the most precarious category for water quality.

In addition, as early as 1983, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study stated that deficits in water supply for the area south of the James River are projected to be as much as 60 million gallons per day by the year 2030. Ground water withdrawals have caused water level declines of as much as 200 feet in some areas.

In the State of New York, water levels in aquifers are predicted to decline by as much as 18 feet and low flows in streams may be decreased by 90 percent in parts of Long Island.

In each of these cases, water supply is inherently tied to water quality. Problems such as groundwater overpumping, damage of existing wetlands, and saltwater intrusion of aquifers can cause irreparable damage to our water systems and surrounding ecosystems. For example, since 1906 wetland acreage in the State of Florida has shrunk by 46%, resulting in a loss of critical habitats as well as a key link in the replenishment of our aquifers. The development of alternative water sources that will help to resolve these types of issues and allow states to provide for future water supply needs without sacrificing environmental protection is my goal. Using this scenario, I am proposing to authorize a program in WRDA 1998 that would fund the design and construction of water source projects to conserve, reclaim, and reuse this most precious resource. The bill would authorize grants to state agencies for the purposes of maximizing available water supply while protecting the environment through the development of alternative water sources. Provided on a 50% matching basis, these federal funds would augment existing state funds and make progress in this area possible.

The State of Florida is taking this issue seriously, and in 1998 alone has budgeted $75 million in regional and state funds for development of alternative water supplies. The approach to alternative water supply development that I am proposing for inclusion into WRDA 1998 will insure water availability without compromising water quality.

Finally, in the area of the Everglades and South Florida Ecosystem Restoration: The Everglades restoration project is the largest restoration program in the world today. This vast region, which is home to more than six million Americans, seven of the ten fastest growing cities in the country, a huge tourism industry, and a large agricultural economy, also encompasses one of the world's unique environmental resources. Over the past 100 years, manmade changes to the region's water flow have provided important economic benefits to the region, but have also had devastating effects on the environment. Biological indicators in the form of native flora and fauna have shown severe damage throughout south Florida.

The work of the Army Corps of Engineers is essential to this effort. The critical projects authorized in WRDA 1996 has demonstrated substantial success. The South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, the Governor's Commission for a Sustainable South Florida, local sponsors, and the Army Corps have completed a review of over 100 potential projects, narrowed the list to 35 and ranked them in order of priority for accelerating the restoration of the South Florida ecosystem.

The Army Corps of Engineers began their work on these projects in December of 1997 when they received fiscal year 1998 funds. Between December 1997 and June 1998, the Army Corps has issued 10 approvals for project letter reports, initiated plans and specifications on 4 of those 10 projects, initiated NEPA documentation on 5 of those 10 projects, and completed draft cooperative agreements with local sponsors on all 10 projects.

Construction on one project, the Southern Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed/Imperial River Flow-way restoration project is scheduled for groundbreaking in mid-July of 1998. This project, a partnership between the Corps, the South Florida Water Management District, and Lee County, will restore historical sheet flow across a 4,600 acre tract of wetlands in southern Lee County. This will establish more natural hydrology on wetland habitat for wildlife, it will improve water quality of stormwater runoff into the Imperial River and Estero Bay, it will recharge surficial aquifers and preclude salt water intrusion, and it will augment flood control by improving natural storage in wetlands.

One of the four projects for which plans and specifications have been initiated is the construction of culverts along the Tamiami Trail, the only major thoughway from the west coast of Florida to the east coast of Florida in the southern part of the state. This project involves the construction of multiple culverts that will allow increased flows of water from the northern end of the Everglades to the southern end without eliminating this transportation vehicle that is so critical to the citizens of Florida. In the original project outline, completion was estimated to cost approximately $6.6 million. During their study of the hydrologic conditions in this area in preparation for construction, the Corps has concluded that the number of culverts required can be reduced from over 2 dozen to 12 or less, resulting in a reduced total project cost. Due to the unique type of authorization, these funds, originally allocated for Everglades restoration, can now be re-allocated to other critical projects. In this way, the authorization provided by this Committee, has provided an incentive for keeping project costs low by allowing funds to be allocated within the Everglades restoration project.

The Army Corps has effectively streamlined its internal process to effectively implement the critical projects. Current planning indicates that these 10 projects will exhaust the $75 million available under the 1996 authority.

In light of the success of this program, the criticality of the Everglades restoration program, and the fact that over 20 priority critical projects will not be authorized under the 1996 authority, I plan to recommend that Congress extend the program authority to the year 2002 and raise the program limit to $150 million. This increase will allow implementation of 20 additional projects according to existing cost estimates. The extension of the authority to 2002 will allow the existing Corps projects to continue as planned (the initiation of this program was delayed for one year due to the fact that no appropriations were provided in 1996.) The additional two year authorization will provide adequate time for the Army Corps of Engineers to begin work on additional critical projects that will be funded by the additional authorization that I am recommending under WRDA 1998.

Many of these 20 projects are critical to the restoration of the Everglades. One such project, the Ten Mile Creek Water Preserve Area will create a more natural salinity range in the North Fork Aquatic Preserve and the St. Lucie River Estuary through the creation of an 8000 acre-foot storm water retention reservoir. This project will help protect the fragile estuary system of Indian River Lagoon which has been severely impacted by increased flows.

Together, these three initiatives will help to insure the future of the state of Florida by protecting our water resources that are so critical to our environment and our economy.