(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Today, we will examine a draft bill to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). This hearing comes on the heels of Sandy, which killed more than 120 people, destroyed entire neighborhoods on the East Coast, and cost billions of dollars in damage to property and businesses. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the communities affected by this terrible storm.
The devastation caused by Sandy puts an even brighter spotlight on the need to ensure that communities have critical flood protection, which is one of the primary goals of the WRDA bill.
The bill before us has been drafted based on the input of members of this Committee and many weeks of discussions with the ranking member of the Full Committee, Sen. Inhofe, and the Chair and Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee. I believe there have been productive discussions to date, and I look forward to continuing to work with every member of this Committee to refine this draft as we move forward.
As we discussed at our September hearing, WRDA authorizes the projects and programs of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and provides many benefits to American families and businesses – including maintaining navigation routes for commerce and reducing the risk of flooding.
For example, U.S. ports and waterways, many of which are maintained by the Corps of Engineers, moved 2.3 billion tons of goods in fiscal year 2011. And Corps flood risk management projects are estimated to have prevented $28.1 billion in damages in 2010.
This bill recognizes the value of our nation’s water resources infrastructure by authorizing 18 projects that have been extensively reviewed, evaluated, and recommended to Congress for authorization. These projects represent all of the Corps of Engineers’ primary mission areas, including flood risk and storm damage reduction, navigation, and ecosystem restoration. They will protect life and property for thousands of people, restore significant ecosystems, and promote commerce at the nation’s ports.
I would like to highlight one such project in my home state of California where we are facing some of the nation’s most critical water resources challenges. The WRDA bill would authorize improvements to levees around the Natomas basin in Sacramento to reduce flood risk for the tens of thousands of Californians they protect. According to the Corps, these levees protect over $7 billion in property, as well as critical Federal, state, and local infrastructure.
I would like to enter a letter into the record from the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency and Rep. Doris Matsui supporting this WRDA bill.
Like Natomas, there are many more life-saving flood control projects around the country that are ready to be built following the passage of a Water Resources Development Act, including projects in Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, and Kentucky. Vital navigation projects and significant ecosystem restoration efforts are also ready to go once Congress acts. That is why I believe we must move quickly on the next WRDA bill.
In addition to authorizing vital projects to protect life and safety and maintain economically-important navigation routes, this bill makes essential policy reforms, including increasing flexibility for non-Federal sponsors of Corps projects, encouraging the Corps to fully implement ongoing efforts to accelerate project delivery, urging the expenditure of funds collected in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, reforming the process for delivery of inland waterways projects, and establishing a National Levee Safety Program.
In light of the devastation caused by Sandy and other extreme weather events in recent years, I have drafted a new title that will help us to better prepare for and reduce the risk from these types of weather-related disasters. I’ve made this new provision available to all Members of the Committee, and I ask unanimous consent to place it in the record.
The provision directs the Corps to work with the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate options to reduce risks associated with future disasters, identify infrastructure investments needed, and explore potential funding sources for these investments. The bill also asks the Government Accountability Office to review the Corps’ policies and practices related to flood control and drought to ensure it is taking appropriate measures to prepare for and respond to these events.
The provision also provides new authority to the Corps to conduct post-disaster watershed assessments and implement critical flood control and ecosystem restoration projects identified in those assessments.
Finally, this bill recognizes the need to expand the sources of funding available to water resources projects. Funding for water infrastructure projects has been insufficient to meet current needs.
To begin to address this funding shortfall, the bill establishes an innovative financing mechanism, known as the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), to allow the Corps and Environmental Protection Agency to provide loans and loan guarantees for flood control, water supply, and wastewater infrastructure projects. This five-year pilot program, based on the successful Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, would support local efforts to leverage funds for water resources projects and help speed construction of local projects.
I believe this draft bill is a good start toward addressing the nation’s water infrastructure needs. Working together with members of this Committee, I’m hopeful we can repeat our recent success on MAP-21. Yesterday, I received a letter from the minority members of this Committee which underscored their commitment to work together on this effort. I look forward to receiving additional input on the draft bill and working collaboratively to build support for this critical legislation.