U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   03/31/2004
 
Statement of Honorable Bob Young
Mayor of Augusta, Georgia
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers role in the nation’s water resource needs in the 21st century.

On behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors I thank the Committee for allowing me to provide a written statement on the “Water Resources Development Act of 2004”.

My purpose today is to provide the Committee with perspectives I have gathered as Co-Chairman of the Urban Water Council and chairman of the Environment Committee, from meetings formal and informal with other Mayors around the nation for the last few years. Undoubtedly, water supply issues have surged to the forefront of urban problems. The variety of types of water supply problems, as well as their severity, is striking.

I have attached my testimony in two hearings last year before the House Subcommittee on the Environment and Water Resources. These statements share some important examples of water problems facing our cities. In this statement I will address some ways that cities and the Federal government, particularly the Corps of Engineers, can work together to improve management of our water resources.

Much is at Stake. Recent droughts and water shortages have made us aware that we cannot take water for granted. The stakes are high. We must meet water challenges if we are to support economic growth in an environmentally sustainable way and assure the quality of life of our people.

A Need for Better Information is a Common Thread. We need to better understand water problems both nationally and in individual watersheds. At the national level, I would like to commend to your attention H.R. 135, the “Twenty First Century Water Commission Act of 2003.” Representative John Linder and the bi-partisan leadership of the House have demonstrated great foresight in passing this bill last year. I sincerely ask you to help us pass H.R. 135 in the Senate during this session. This legislation will give us the national information we need to begin crafting our Twenty First Century water management strategy.

One thing in common for all of the cases I have seen during my involvement with the Urban Water Council is a lack of recognition of the seriousness of water resources problems; and, a lack of effective planning to use current water resources more efficiently and effectively. The federal government can play a lead role in the form of technical assistance to achieve the needed level of planning so that American cities and states, neighboring watersheds, and the network of rivers can be made to meet our economic and cultural needs. Data, technical expertise and analysis to support good water planning are essential to success. In an era of fiscal restraint across all levels of government, investment in good water planning has even greater payoffs. All levels of government can benefit in more holistic management and shared savings in resources.

Federal leadership in planning is critically important in watersheds that involve more than one state. We’ve seen how independent planning by one state can penalize another. And, we’ve seen how compacts are not the cure-all. Using the technical assistance, body of research and leadership of the Corps and other federal agencies, states and local jurisdictions can be guided toward rational and beneficial use of shared water resources, thus precluding the intervention of the courts.

The states of Georgia and South Carolina have been working with the Corps for a couple of years on a comprehensive study of the Savannah River Basin. This historic report will provide the baseline to guide state and local governments through the important process of planning for the future use of shared resources. Funding from Georgia and South Carolina is supplementing the Corps’ financial participation.

I am aware that several states are responding to water management challenges within their borders. In my own state, the legislature is considering a bill to direct preparation of a state water plan. Georgia would join Texas and Pennsylvania as recent examples of the willingness of states to shoulder responsibility for integrated management our precious water resources. These state-led water planning efforts have a very important thing in common: They are collaboratively built with bottom up participation of cities and water districts and emphasize regional solutions to water problems. The Federal government must encourage this approach across the nation.

The Corps of Engineers Can Bring Valuable Assistance to States, Tribes and Local Governments. The Corps of Engineers is uniquely situated to states, tribal and local government leadership in integrated water planning. We need the Corps’ data, technical assistance and their internationally recognized water models to help us in making better decisions.

In Augusta, we have previously partnered with the Corps of Engineers for improvements in the Oats Creek basin to abate repetitive flooding problems in low-income residential areas. We are currently working with the Corps on development of similar modeling for the Raes Creek and Rocky Creek Basins, the historic Augusta Canal National Heritage Area and Phinizy Swamp. Without the expertise and financial resources of the Corps of Engineers, the City of Augusta would never have been able to undertake this work.

I should add that we have been able to leverage additional dollars through FEMA’s Flood Hazard Mitigation program to accomplish some of the projects identified in the Corps’ reports.

As you consider the Water Resources Development Act of 2004, I urge the Committee to consider expanding the Corps mission to include supporting state, tribal and local governments as well as interstate water organizations in planning and designing responses to our nation’s water challenges. The House Water Resources bill, H.R. 2557, has two provisions that contribute to the Corps ability to help state and local governments. These are Section 2019, Watershed and River Basin Assessments and Section 2025, Technical Assistance. I ask you to consider these and other proposals that may be made to increase the Corps support to cities across the country.

I want to thank the Committee again for permitting me to share these views. Anything we can do to emphasize the importance of water resources in an era of scarcity is important. Water is a valuable public resource and we need to treat it as such. We need to better understand the nation's water situation in order to make good public policy decisions. It is vitally important to have a point of reference for the status of water in the nation in order to determine short and long-term plans regarding water usage, conservation, as well as potential new sources of usable water. On behalf of the Conference of Mayor and its Urban Water Council, I look forward to working with you on this important legislation.