Senior Vice President for Policy
National Audubon Society
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Water Resources Development Act
June 18, 2002
Mr. Chairman, Senator Smith, and members of the Committee, on behalf of Audubonís† more than one million members and supporters, thank you for the opportunity to present our views regarding proposals for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2002.† The purpose of our testimony is to recommend for inclusion in WRDA 2002 much needed comprehensive reforms to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), as well as three† projects, that are vital to the continued restoration of the Everglades.† Audubonís mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity.
Audubon thanks the Chairman for his long-standing support for our nationís precious natural resources and for his recent actions to protect our environment since assuming the Chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee.† Audubon also recognizes the past Chairman and Ranking Member for his vision, courage and determination in championing historic legislation designed to restore the Everglades and return the abundance of wading birds and rich diversity of life to the unique and globally significant River of Grass.†† We also thank the other members of the committee and the staff for their role in the passage of the Restoring the Everglades, an American Legacy Act in WRDA 2000, and for their continued support for Everglades restoration.
Before discussing specific proposals of Corps Reform legislation, Audubon would like to acknowledge the vital role that the Corps has played in helping to increase commerce and strengthen our economy and especially for its role in protecting American lives and safeguarding communities during natural disasters.† The Corps has done an able job constructing Congressionally authorized projects for over two hundred and twenty years.
Unfortunately, two-hundred and twenty years of water resource projects have also left a legacy of environmental destruction and billions of taxpayer dollars wasted on projects that are often without merit. Water resource projects have been identified by the scientific community to be a leading cause of dramatic population declines in a large percentage of our wading birds,† native fish and other freshwater species that are threatened with extinction.
Mitigation plans to repair the environmental damage for water resource projects often do not address the full impacts of the projects and in some instances are never undertaken.
Several major Corps environmental restoration projects, such as Everglades restoration, are now directed at undoing the damage of previous Corps projects,† yet additional projects that cause the same kind of environmental devastation continue to be constructed.† Several currently authorized projects would destroy hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands and threaten our environmentally sensitive floodplains, rivers and other critical aquatic habitat that so many species of wildlife depend on.
More than half of our countryís original wetlands have already been lost, and we continue to destroy wetlands at a rate of approximately 60,000 acres per year.† In addition to their enormous ecological benefits, wetlands also benefit society by filtering pollutants out of our water, providing flood control, recreational opportunities, and economic benefits.† We can no longer subsidize the destruction of wetlands and other critical aquatic habitat through wasteful Corps water resource projects.
The need for comprehensive reform of the Corps and the water resources development process has become increasingly clear.†† Several Corps projects have recently been shown by government reports and scientific reviews to be wasteful, economically unjustified, and devastating to our nationís natural resources.† The Corps has been shown by the Army Inspector General and the National Academy of Sciences to have used flawed economic models and intentionally manipulated data in order to justify expanding locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi River.† The General Accounting Office has found the Delaware River Deepening project to be similarly unjustified.† Government reports have also corroborated internal revelations that the Corps has an institutional bias toward large projects that are often without merit and result in grave environmental consequences for our environment and especially for our remaining wetlands.†
Audubon strongly supports proposed reforms to the Corps that emphasize fiscal responsibility, public accountability and environmentally sustainable projects. The Corps reform bills introduced in the Senate and House (S. 1987, S. 646, H.R. 1310 and H.R. 2353) contain crucial reforms that cannot be postponed.
Audubon strongly urges the Committee to adopt reforms proposed in S. 646 and H.R. 1310 to ensure that environmental damages incurred by project construction are fully mitigated.† This will require the Corps to acquire and restore an acre of similar habitat to replace each acre of habitat negatively impacted by a project.† Seeking a balance between the economic developments of a project with other social priorities, and mitigating the environmental damages will positively impact all of the Corps water projects, while ensuring safer and healthier habitats for people, birds, and wildlife.†
Audubon strongly supports reforms proposed in S. 1987, which aim to address the enormous $52 billion construction backlog of Corps projects by deauthorizing those projects that are shown to be economically unjustified.† We especially endorse the provision to prevent the Corps from basing any of a projectís benefits upon any economic value resulting from the destruction of wetlands.† We also back the proposal to deauthorize low-benefit projects that have a benefit-to-cost ratio of less than 1.5 and are less than one-third completed, if Congress chooses not to reauthorize this project within a three year period.
A critical element of S. 1987 is its direction to the Corps to define economic development and environmental protection as co-equal goals of water resources planning and development.
Both S. 1987 and H.R. 2353 rightfully require the Corps to count the cost of destroying natural resources when calculating the economic costs and benefits of projects.† Both bills also require the Corps to give taxpayers a better return on their investment by raising the cost-benefit ratio from 1:1 to 1:1.5, which will eliminate many unjustified projects.
Audubon also endorses reforms proposed in S. 646 and H.R. 1310 to increase public participation and input at the outset of every proposed project. The bills create new advisory and review procedures for the Corps and require that information on water resource project analyses be made available for review by the public throughout the planning process, thereby improving the public accountability of the Corps.
All of the proposed Corps Reform bills, S. 1987, S. 646, H.R. 1310 and H.R. 2353, contain provisions to improve the Corpsí accountability by instituting a system of independent peer review† for large and controversial projects.†† Audubon supports independent peer review that is concurrent with the Corpsí current project planning process.†† Similarly, Audubon strongly endorses reforms proposed in all of these bills that will increase the fiscal responsibility and public accountability of the Corps.
Now more than ever, Congress must enact meaningful Corps reforms to improve the broken water resources development process and help restore faith in an agency which has suffered a significant loss of credibility.† We ask Congress to direct the Corps to manage ecosystems in an environmentally sustainable manner and to provide equal consideration and resources to environmental restoration as to flood control and navigation. Audubon will continue to support efforts to reform the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and we look forward to working with you to ensure that the next WRDA† contains comprehensive and much-needed reforms.
Again, we thank the Committee for its long-standing support for Everglades restoration and urge your continued support for the restoration of Americaís Everglades.† The Everglades is a model for future Corps environmental restoration projects.† The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is an outstanding example of how a reformed Corps† would repair damage from previous water resource projects while functioning in a manner that is responsive, accountable, and fiscally responsible.†
Everglades restoration embodies Corps Reform.† The Corps has set about to undo the damage wrought by a half-century of civil works projects that diked and drained the Everglades and each day divert up to two billion gallons of life-giving water† away from the Everglades and out to sea.† In Everglades restoration, the Corps has demonstrated public accountability by conducting extensive public outreach and remaining extremely open and accessible throughout the process.†† In some ways the Corps is already operating the largest restoration project ever attempted in human history in the manner that the proposed reforms intend. Everglades restoration† amounts to Corps Reform in action, on-the-ground, righting the wrongs of the past by restoring one of the worldís most unique and diverse ecosystems.Audubon strongly urges the Committee to include in WRDA three †vital Everglades restoration projects that are scheduled for authorization by Congress this year and contain more than half of the total land area of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).† These projects will deliver enormous benefits to the Everglades natural system. Like other parts of the Everglades ecosystem, these projects are largely an attempt to repair previous damage by federal and state projects. The partnership between America and Florida on these† projects will contribute significant improvements to the Everglades and our nationís natural resources.
The proposed 2002 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) must include authorization for the Water Preserve Areas (WPAs), the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), and the Southern Golden Gates Estates (SGGE) Hydrologic Restoration Projects in order to accomplish significant early restoration. These projects also provide the earliest ecological and economic value for the investment that Floridaís and Americaís taxpayers are making in this historic restoration effort.
The Indian River Lagoon Project will reverse the deterioration and restore a nationally significant and unique system connecting Lake Okeechobee to one of the most diverse estuaries† in North America.† The project restores, protects and utilizes 92,900 acres of water storage and water quality treatment areas.† Restoring, cleaning up and enhancing the areaís wetlands and waterways increases the extent of natural storage and limits the dumping of harmful stormwater into Lake Okeechobee, the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie Estuary.† These water bodies will benefit enormously by land acquisition and improvements for stormwater retention and water storage and by changing the current projectís drainage patterns.
The Southern Golden Gates Estates Hydrologic Restoration Project will restore to its previous natural condition 113 square miles (72,320 acres) of Southwest Florida that was ditched and drained for a sprawling development. Efforts to restore this areaís unique ecology of cypress, wet prairie, pine, hardwood hammock and swamp have been underway for decades. The project is connected to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, the Belle Meade State Conservation and Recreation Lands Project Area, the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, and will restore flows to the Ten Thousand Island Estuaries and Aquatic Preserve through sheetflow and flowways rerouting approximately 185,000 acre-feet of water currently discharged as point source to the Faka Union Bay. Immediate benefits for the booming adjacent urban area include water supply through aquifer recharge and the prevention of saltwater intrusion while maintaining current authorized levels of flood protection for developed areas. The State of Florida has already acquired more than 90% of the 60,000 acres needed for the project. The restoration benefits of this project are critically needed and too long overdue.†
The Water Preserve Areas (WPAs) Project, (including the Bird Drive Recharge Area and the Southern Compartment of the Hillsboro Impoundment), an integral part of the Everglades restoration plan, is located within Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties east of the Everglades and west of existing development, creating a 13,600 acre buffer area (Recommended Plan of the Draft WPA Feasibility Study). The WPAs are designed to increase the spatial extent of wetlands acres, improve habitat in the Everglades Protection Area, enhance the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, as well as store water, and safeguard wellfields. WPAs provide a critical source of water storage for restoration by reducing undesirable losses from the natural system through seepage and providing a means of capturing stormwater runoff that was previously wasted to tide. Further, development continues to encroach on the remaining natural areas adjacent to the Everglades. These remaining wetlands serve a critical role in the restoration of the Everglades by maintaining wetland spatial extent. The WPAs also provide a mechanism for increased aquifer recharge and surface water storage capacity to enhance regional water supplies for the lower east coast urban areas, thereby reducing demands on an already degraded natural system.
These three projects demonstrate large-scale ecosystem restoration, while maintaining or improving water supply and flood protection. The success of these projects hinges on timely authorization. These projects require intensive and significant acquisition of land under significant development pressure Ė delay could result in failure. If authorized in 2002, these projects will result in significant ecosystem restoration early in CERP implementation Ė the kind of early success that will be essential to maintaining the broad support CERP now enjoys from both the public and private sectors.
Chairman Jeffords and Ranking Member Smith, thank you for the opportunity to present our views to the Committee. We look forward to working with you and the other members of the Committee to ensure that the next WRDA includes comprehensive Corps Reform along with vital Everglades restoration projects that are a model for future Corps restoration projects .†