U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   03/31/2004
 
Statement of Dr. William G. Howland
Basin Program Manager
Lake Champlain Basin Program
Grand Isle, VT
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers role in the nation’s water resource needs in the 21st century

Chairman Inhofe, Ranking Member Jeffords, Subcommittee Chair Bond and Ranking Member Reid, and distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me here today to testify about the role of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in meeting the nation’s water resources needs.

I would like to speak today about the tremendously important role presently played by the Army Corps in addressing the most fundamental needs of American citizens: clean water to drink and a healthy place to live.

Before taking up my position managing the Lake Champlain Basin Program nearly five years ago, I had been a staff scientist in an environmental engineering firm, a member of the research faculty at McGill University specializing in military geosciences with a doctorate in biophysical remote sensing, and later on the faculty at the University of Vermont and at Middlebury College. I have an understanding of the main water quality challenges facing large lakes across the nation. And I appreciate the pressing need for federal leadership in repairing and restoring ecosystems that have been impaired through the development of our American society.

The Lake Champlain Basin Program, which I manage, is a bi-state and international partnership to restore water quality and improve the economy of the Lake Champlain Basin. Our partnership involves the states of Vermont and New York, the Province of Quebec, and numerous federal agencies, including the USEPA, the USDA, USDI, and the USACE. This partnership is highly effective and through our work to restore the lake ecosystem, we also are ensuring an economic future for citizens in our region. This work is of vital importance to the regional economy, including the tourism and recreation economy for which we are well known, and which depends so fundamentally upon this great and wonderful lake.

One of the great discoveries in my work with the Lake Champlain Basin Program’s federal agency partners is the good faith and dedication that they bring to the task of cleaning up and restoring America’s waterways. I have great admiration and appreciation for all of our federal partners. Today, my testimony will focus on the essential work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and particularly their role in Environmental Restoration projects.

Cleaning up pollution in a lake is exceedingly difficult and costly. And it always includes interrupting the flow of pollutants into the drainage system to prevent further contamination.

Pollution prevention requires changing the way things work in the landscape that drains into the lake. In Lake Champlain, as in the Great Lakes and other parts of the nation, ecosystem restoration efforts often require advanced engineering design expertise and leadership that communities and states simply can not provide.

The competence and engineering expertise of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a vital resource for planning, designing and executing restoration plans. The stature of the Corps, its track record with large projects and its quality control protocols provide the leadership that is essential to maintain and improve the water quality of our rivers and lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps is currently facilitating several restoration projects in the Lake Champlain watershed. With the Corp’s support, an infestation of water chestnut, an invasive aquatic plant that has dominated the entire southern part of the lake for years is now nearly under control. This program, run in partnership with the states of Vermont and New York, has lead us out of an almost hopeless situation and we are seeing a return to public enjoyment of shoreline areas in the southern part of Lake Champlain.

This summer we expect to begin work on projects to intercept storm water runoff into Lake George, part of the Lake Champlain ecosystem, and to stabilize eroding streambanks in the Missisquoi watershed, with expertise, oversight and funding by the U.S. Army Corps. Without their leadership and support, this vital work could not happen.

The role of the U.S. Army Corp’s Environmental Restoration authority is a vital nationwide asset; getting projects done - and done professionally - all across America. Dam removal projects, wetland restoration, fish passages and streambank stabilization projects restore degraded ecosystems, improve American lives, strengthen our nation’s economy and ensure that we will be able to provide clean drinking water to ourselves, our children and their children.

Lake St. Clair, and the St. Clair River, located between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, faces massive problems of nutrient loading, invasive species and the challenges of a busy waterway. It is in desperate need of pollution prevention and ecosystem restoration action. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has taken the lead role in drawing together federal agencies and communities in the U.S. and Canada to address this international challenge. The stature and expertise of the Corps, and its mandate to develop a management plan, under Section 246 of WRDA 1999, placed it in the logical lead in this important effort.

One of the greatest restoration programs in the history of our nation is underway in the Everglades and South Florida Ecosystem, with U.S. Army Corps leadership. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan approved by Congress in WRDA 2000 is the key to the future of the huge everglades ecosystem and the vitality of a significant sector of the Florida economy.

Coordination of the work of eight federal agencies and more than a hundred local stakeholder governments, regional councils and state agencies, could only be managed by an agency with the engineering capacity, traditions and commitment of the U.S. Army Corps.

From Texas to Mississippi in the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem, wetlands are disappearing at the rate of nearly 22,000 acres per year. The U.S. Army Corps is a partner with the State of Louisiana on a feasibility study that will enable us to better understand this problem, and how to mitigate and minimize losses, to restore a future for this region. Similar case histories, of projects large and small, could be cited from across the nation, with the accolades and gratitude of millions of American citizens.

America today faces unprecedented challenges of ecosystem damage and resultant declines in water quality, contaminated and weed-infested waterways, and polluted lakes and estuaries across the nation. These problems have compromised drinking water supplies for millions of Americans, caused desperate struggles for survival in the tourism and recreation industries, and created an alarming trend towards more and greater problems in the near future.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a vital part of our military service that works directly in the homeland to meet these challenges with the world’s best professional expertise. Its stature and traditions of service to America have turned to environmental restoration projects that require engineering solutions. The Corps brings the best tools in the nation to guide the engineering problem-solving that these special ecosystems require.

I would like to direct your attention to the challenges we face regarding the Corp’s Continuing Authorities programs and Sections 206 and 1135. The existing program limits of $25 million for each have simply not kept pace with current needs, and are now a fraction of what America needs them to be. In the Lake Champlain watershed, this means that several ongoing projects are being suspended due to a national shortfall.

Suspending good projects partway through their implementation, whether in Lake Champlain or elsewhere across the nation, neither saves money nor avoids expense. The problems in each case will get far more costly, not less costly. The opportunities to prevent or contain pollution will be lost if a shortfall like this persists. The most cost-effective solution to large ecosystem problems is to invest adequately in their restoration at the earliest possible date.

Any alternative is likely to be a false economy in the short term and result a burgeoning burden of additional accrued contamination and sharply increased costs of restoration in the long term.

Finally, the work of the U.S. Army Corps on environmental restoration is not only about conservation philosophy or environmental ethics. It is also about our nation’s economic engines. As we know so well in the northeast, it is about the vitality of the tourism economy and the quality of life that keeps the recreation businesses in business. It is about trucks on the highway, the pulse of commerce and trade. It is about reducing bankruptcies and maintaining jobs.

It is about smell of the tap water in the cities and towns across the nation; it is about the health of our own human habitat throughout this nation that is our future.

In the final analysis, ecosystem restoration and water quality is about insuring the quality of life for citizens across America, and the health of our children and their children for generations to come.

I hope the members of this Committee will continue to recognize, appreciate and support the vital role of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in service to the American homeland and, in particular, will fully support their Environmental Restoration programs.

Thank you for the invitation to testify before you today. I look forward to answering your questions.