Thank you, Chairman Baucus, for holding this hearing and thank you, Secretary Darcy and General Van Antwerp for testifying before us this afternoon.
Chairman Boxer has indicated her intent to draft and move a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) this year. I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate my support for doing so. The purpose of today’s hearing is not to discuss a WRDA bill, but to look at the President’s fiscal year 2012 budget request for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works program, which lays out the Administration’s priorities for investing in water resources infrastructure. I have to say that I was disappointed to see that this request was not only a decrease from FY10 enacted levels, but that it was even a decrease from the FY11 budget request.
As a fiscal conservative, I strongly support the overall goal of cutting government spending, but I firmly believe that two areas worthy of spending taxpayer dollars are defense and infrastructure. It may not be as headline-grabbing as some other areas of government spending, but investments in infrastructure – including water resources infrastructure – not only have job creation benefits, but more importantly, are essential for economic growth.
We have significant water resources needs across the country, but we aren’t dedicating the funds necessary to address them. For example, let’s look at our navigation infrastructure, which is essential to ensuring reliable and efficient movement of goods. More than 50 percent of the locks and dams operated by the Corps are over 50 years old and the Corps navigation budget has been cut by 22 percent over the last five years. In addition, only approximately half of the annual revenue in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is spent as intended – on critical maintenance dredging – while the rest is counted as offsetting the deficit.
In my home state of Oklahoma, we have a very successful port that lies at the head of navigation for the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, the Port of Catoosa. On average, 8,000 barges transport approximately 12-million tons of cargo on the system each year. However, the system could function much more efficiently and productively if it was deepened from its current 9 foot depth to the authorized 12 feet. Let’s look at the numbers: Approximately 90 percent of this 445-mile system is currently at 12 feet, according to the Arkansas River Navigation Study. This means only 10 percent or roughly 45 miles are at less than 12 feet. If the entire system was 12 feet deep, the towing industry estimates that we could increase barge capacity by 43 percent. This needs to be a priority.
I’d like to briefly mention a few other items that are important to Oklahoma. I have been working with the Tulsa District Office and the local Lugert-Altus Irrigation District on chloride control at the Red River. These actions will provide new drinking water supplies, increased agricultural irrigation in the southwestern Oklahoma area, and improved downstream water quality.
Another substantial priority for me is Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan. WRDA 2007 authorized $50 million to carry out ecosystem restoration, flood damage reduction, and recreation components of the Plan. Cooperative efforts among the Corps, Tulsa County, the City of Tulsa, and Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG) are necessary to implement it.
Finally, I authored the Oklahoma Lakes Demonstration Program because we cannot rely on federal funding for improvements at Corps lakes in Oklahoma. I believe the Corps could do a better job working with local governments, the State of Oklahoma, and private investors to make this program a success. I appreciate your receptivity to using the flexibility this program envisions and would like your commitment in conveying that flexibility throughout the Corps.
I look forward to hearing the witnesses’ testimony.