Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on America ’s Water Resources needs, and in particular, the ecosystem restoration needs of our country. I am Jamie Williams, State Director for The Nature Conservancy in Montana . My comments today will focus on three areas:
· examples of successes in ecosystem restoration;
· policy and funding needs to move forward; and
· highlights of some of the nation’s most significant ecosystem restoration priorities.
The Nature Conservancy is an international, nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of biological diversity. Our mission is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. Our on-the-ground conservation work is carried out in all 50 states and in 30 foreign countries and is supported by approximately one million individual members. The Nature Conservancy has protected more than 117 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of river around the world. Our work also includes more than 100 marine conservation projects in 21 countries and 22 US states. In Montana, we have a 30-year track record of helping local landowners and communities sustain Montana’s working landscapes, legendary wildlife, free flowing rivers, and recreational access – all of which are so central to Montana ’s special quality of life.
The Conservancy owns and manages approximately 1,400 preserves throughout the United States —the largest private system of nature sanctuaries in the world. We recognize, however, that our mission cannot be achieved by core protected areas alone. Therefore, our projects increasingly seek to accommodate compatible human uses, and especially in the developing world, to address sustained human well-being.
As the Conservancy has increased its engagement in a variety of restoration projects ranging from large-scale efforts in the Upper Mississippi River and Everglades to smaller scale projects under continuing authority programs, the Corps has become an important conservation partner. By number of projects, the Conservancy is now the Corps’ largest non-federal sponsor of ecosystem restoration projects. This expanding partnership is reflected in our Sustainable Rivers Program, a joint effort focusing on dam re-operations on 10 ecologically significant river systems across the country. At another 39 sites we are collaborating with the Corps under the sections 1135 and 206 Continuing Authority Programs (CAPs), and other Corps authorities, to protect and restore areas of critical ecological concern.
I. Successes in Ecosystem Restoration
The past century has witnessed a decline in the ecological health of many of our nation’s rivers and streams. Much of this decline is the unintended consequence of federal water development projects designed to provide public benefits such as flood control, electricity and irrigation. As a result, ecosystem restoration has become a critical component of the Corps’ Civil Works mission. Drawing on the Conservancy’s growing experience with ecosystem restoration, I would like to share with you three success stories that demonstrate how we can meet some of the nation’s most challenging environmental problems while continuing to provide for water resource needs such as flood control, irrigation and navigation.
The Yellowstone River is one of the Conservancy’s top conservation priorities in Montana . As the longest remaining free-flowing river in the lower 48 States, the 671-mile Yellowstone is a rare model of the structure and function of large western rivers. It continues to support healthy riverside cottonwood forests and over 60 fish species, including a small population of endangered pallid sturgeon, one of the last strongholds in the Missouri River Basin .
Just 70 miles above the river’s mouth with the Missouri is a low-head diversion dam, called Intake Dam. While critical for irrigation in the region, Intake Dam prevents the Yellowstone ’s warm water fish species from reaching native spawning grounds upstream. There are only about 350 pallid sturgeon left in the upper Missouri-Yellowstone Recovery Area, and the Yellowstone presents the best functioning river system to recover this endangered fish. Right now, the fish collect at the base of Intake dam during their spawning run only to turn around without success. The sturgeon population is aging, and biologists estimate they only have about ten years left to successfully reproduce naturally. The Conservancy has been involved with a tremendous collaborative effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, Montana’s Governor and Congressional delegation, and most importantly, the local Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Districts to find a way of providing fish passage at Intake while ensuring continued water delivery to over 55,000 acres of irrigated agricultural land critical to Montana’s sugar beat industry.
After studying many alternatives, a plan was developed to retrofit Intake dam with a long rock ramp that will not only allow for fish passage but also upgrade a deteriorating, century-old dam, ensuring water delivery for the next one hundred years. The project also compliments other local efforts upstream on one of the Yellowstone’s key tributaries, the Tounge River , to modify 3 irrigation structures with “fish friendly” management. Once completed, the Intake project would immediately reopen up to 175 miles of spawning habitat on the Yellowstone River and another 375 miles of major tributaries once the Tounge projects are completed, providing the best and cheapest alternative to restore these fish in the Missouri Basin (see attached map).
The project represents a great, creative way to meet ecosystem restoration and economic needs, and has very broad local, state, and federal support. In fact, it has resulted in basin-wide support, which is remarkable given that the water politics of the Missouri River basin are extremely complicated. To ensure that success is realized, we urge Congress’ continued support by providing authorizing language in WRDA and necessary federal funding for this project.
The Conservancy is also a partner on the Hamilton City Flood Damage Reduction and Ecosystem Restoration project in California , which is a model for what can, and should, happen elsewhere. Hamilton City is located on the Sacramento River--the largest river in California , draining approximately 24,000 square miles and supplying 80 percent of the freshwater flowing into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Historically, the river was lined by 800,000 acres of riparian habitat. Over 95 percent of this habitat has been lost. The remaining mosaic of riparian and aquatic habitats along the Sacramento River is home to several listed threatened and endangered species, including neotropical migrant birds, all four runs of chinook salmon, and steelhead trout.
Hamilton City and surrounding agricultural lands are only marginally protected from flooding by a degraded private levee (circa 1904) called the “J” Levee. The “J” Levee does not meet any formal engineering standards and provides only a 66 percent chance of passing a 10-year flood. As a result, Hamilton City has mounted flood fights and has been evacuated due to flooding six times in the last 20 years. In the winter of 2005-2006, flood conditions prompted delivery of 60,000 sandbags to Hamilton City . Surrounding agricultural lands also receive little protection from flooding.
For over 25 years, the community attempted--unsuccessfully--to secure federal engagement in their efforts to reduce the risk of flooding to the town and the surrounding agricultural lands that are important to the town's economy. It was not until habitat restoration was incorporated into the project that the benefit of the project was deemed sufficient to justify the cost. Project partners collaborated to conduct a feasibility study, which produced a plan with broad bipartisan support. The plan involves construction of a new set-back levee and reconnection of about 1,500 acres of floodplain to the river, which will simultaneously facilitate restoration of riparian habitat and significantly enhance flood protection for the community.
This dual purpose project has the potential to be a true "win-win"--by meeting the flood-control needs of the local community while restoring riparian habitats and natural river processes. The local community is working hard to uphold its part of the bargain. Its citizens have raised over $100,000 in donations and proceeds from annual levee festivals held since 1998 to contribute toward the project’s nonfederal cost share. To continue to move forward, this project needs the continued support of Congress to provide federal funding and authorizing language in WRDA.
Lastly, I would like to highlight an innovative and cooperative project to restore over 1,000 miles of river habitat on the Penobscot River in Maine . The Penobscot is Maine’s largest river and second largest in New England . Historically, runs of Atlantic salmon, American shad, alewife and nine other migratory fish species streamed from the Gulf of Maine to spawning habitats up river. These native fisheries thrived in a complex ecosystem supported by diverse and abundant invertebrate life, fertile wetlands and varied spawning. However, over the last two centuries, construction of a series of dams along the river has created impassable barriers to many of these native sea-run fish.
The restoration of the Penobscot River is an unprecedented effort to remove two dams and build a state-of-the-art fish bypass around a third to open up historic spawning habitat for endangered Atlantic salmon and six other species of sea-run fish. The seeds of the project were sown in 1999 when PPL Corporation (formerly Pennsylvania Power and Light) purchased a series of dams in Maine . PPL approached the Penobscot Indian Nation and several conservation organizations in hopes of creating a cooperative model for the dam relicensing process. The project is the result of a groundbreaking agreement among diverse parties, including PPL Corporation, the state of Maine , the Penobscot Indian Nation, the U.S. Department of the Interior and several conservation groups. An innovative part of the agreement allows the power company to increase energy production at five other hydro facilities on the river thus replacing the energy that would otherwise be lost from the decommissioning of three dams.
The Penobscot River Restoration Project resolves longstanding disagreements over how best to restore native sea-run fish and their habitat while balancing the need for hydropower production. The environmental and economic goals of the project include restoring self-sustaining populations of native sea-run fish, maintaining hydropower resources, renewing opportunities for the Penobscot Indian Nation to exercise sustenance fishing rights, and avoiding future uncertainties over regulation of the river. The project also promises to expand recreational fishing and boating opportunities, creating new opportunities for tourism and local economic growth.
The total cost for this restoration is estimated to be $50 million. To date, the project has raised $7.5 million from non-federal sources and $4.5 million from federal sources. The President’s FY08 budget requests at least $10 million in support of the acquisition of the dams and for pre- and post-removal monitoring. In addition, this project requires authorizing language in WRDA to enable the Corps to become a fully integrated partner in the restoration work.
Much of our experience in ecosystem restoration, including our work on the Yellowstone, Sacramento and Penobscot Rivers , has shown how traditional water resource goals such as flood protection, irrigation and navigation can be met while providing for ecosystem needs. These success stories and many others like them demonstrate why ecosystem restoration must remain a top priority in legislation and funding.
II. Policy and Funding Needs
While the Corps has been an excellent and willing partner on the projects described above, policy and funding constraints threaten the success of these and many other important restoration efforts. We recognize that in tight budget times difficult funding decisions must be made. With that said, we urge Congress to make the restoration of ecosystems that contribute to the safety, welfare and livelihoods of local communities one of the nation’s top water resource funding priorities. In addition to funding needs, many projects, including the successes just described, are awaiting authorization in WRDA to move forward. To ensure that we continue to build on past successes in ecosystem restoration, Congress must quickly pass WRDA and return to the bi-annual reauthorization of this critically important legislation.
Specific recommendations for WRDA authorization and ecosystem restoration funding are outlined below.
The Conservancy supports well-funded, robust programmatic authorities to restore functioning, sustainable ecosystems. However, funding shortfalls in existing restoration programs have hindered a number of our restoration projects. In addition, there are a number of ecosystem restoration needs that are not adequately addressed by current restoration authorities. We offer the following programmatic funding recommendations:
Raise the programmatic funding ceilings for Sections 206 and 1135 Continuing Authority Programs (CAP) from $25 million to $100 million per year nationally, and the per project ceilings from $5 million to $10 million.
Under the Section 1135 and 206 Continuing Authority Programs (CAP), the Conservancy has been the lead non-federal sponsor on 17 projects. These projects seek to achieve an array of ecosystem restoration goals ranging from coastal shoreline stabilization to fish passage and floodplain reconnection. CAP 1135 and 206 projects are producing many success stories around the country, and as a result, demand now exceeds even the annual authorized limits for these programs.
Oversubscription of these programs has halted a number of projects that enjoy strong support from the local community and Corps District. In an attempt to address this problem, the FY06 Energy and Water appropriations bill implemented a ban on new starts and advancement of existing projects. Despite significant investment of both federal and Conservancy resources in feasibility studies and project design, this situation left many of our projects languishing without funding. In some cases, this moratorium has forced the Conservancy’s state chapters to either abandon work on the projects or seek other funding outside of the Corps budget. Increased authorization and full funding is needed to move these worthwhile projects forward and to continue the positive work that has been started under these ecosystem restoration authorities.
In addition to increasing overall program funding, adjustments are needed to the per project funding limits under these authorities. While the relatively small size of CAP projects provides distinct advantages for the Corps and project sponsors, the typical costs associated with ecosystem restoration such as re-vegetation or channel reconstruction can easily eclipse the federal limit of $5 million per project. Increasing the per project authorization to $10 million will help alleviate this problem.
Create a new Small Dam Removal Continuing Authority Program authorized at $25 million per year.
Currently, there are tens of thousands of small, privately-owned dams nationwide. These dams were built to meet public needs such as flood control, irrigation and hydropower. While many are still serving these purposes, a large number no longer perform as they were originally intended and many have aged beyond their planned life expectancy, causing safety risks for communities downstream. As we have learned from our work on the Yellowstone and Penobscot Rivers , many dams also cause ecological harm to rivers by altering the natural chemical, physical and biological characteristics of the waterway and limiting access to important habitat for a number of fish species. While there is often strong support for removal of small dams that have outlived their usefulness, a dedicated funding source for this purpose does not yet exist. A new small dam removal continuing authority program would go a long way to help to fulfill this unmet need.
Reauthorize the Estuary Restoration Act
In approving the Estuary Restoration Act (ERA) in 2000, Congress recognized the importance of a nationwide, strategic plan and multi-level partnerships for effectively addressing the problems plaguing our nation’s estuaries. By setting a goal to restore one million acres of estuary habitat by 2010, the Act encourages coordination among all levels of government, and engages the unique strengths of the public, non-profit, and private sectors.
At this time, a number of improvements are necessary to the Act, including funding reauthorization for the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as new authority for the partner federal agencies on the Estuary Council – the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Agriculture – to request funding and coordinate with the Army Corps through cooperative agreements to implement estuary restoration projects. Additionally, in order for the Estuary Restoration Program to become more effective, small projects language must be enacted to complement these cooperative agreements, thereby allowing projects under $1 million to move forward through the assistance of the partner agencies.
The Conservancy supports the inclusion of language in this year’s WRDA to reauthorize the Estuary Restoration Act (ERA, P.L. 106-457). We applaud the committee for including reauthorization language for the ERA in the Senate WRDA 2006 legislation, and we encourage the Committee to support maintaining the ERA language in the WRDA 2007 legislation.
Through our on the ground experience delivering ecosystem restoration projects we have identified a number of programmatic or policy changes that are needed to improve the implementation of these projects. The recommendations below will help improve efficiency and expedite project delivery by removing some of the policy barriers to successful implementation.
Permit credit for ecosystem restoration work that is related to a flood control project and is locally implemented prior to project authorization.
Presently, the Corps may credit non-federal sponsors for early implementation of flood walls, levees or other features that reduce flood damages if built to Corps standards and ultimately included in the authorized project. However, no similar authority exists for early implementation of floodplain or ecosystem restoration. In cases where flood control projects include a restoration component, allowing early restoration means implementation can proceed more quickly, perhaps accelerating the schedule by years.
Permit NGOs to serve as the non-federal sponsor of General Investigations Studies
The Nature Conservancy has been an integral partner in many ecosystem restoration efforts involving General Investigation studies, but currently, non-governmental organizations cannot serve as the non-federal sponsor. Where the Conservancy or another NGO is the lead partner in an ecosystem restoration project, this policy limits the non-federal funding and in-kind support that can be brought to a project. Allowing NGOs to be non-federal sponsors will expedite project delivery and ensure that NGOs can continue to play an active role in ecosystem restoration projects.
Permit pre-Project Cooperation Agreement (PCA) credit in the Section 206 and 1135 programs for necessary project elements performed by the non-federal sponsor.
The PCA occurs after all of the Corps studies, planning, and designs are completed and the non-federal project sponsor commits to the non-federal share of the project. All of the Corps costs prior to signing the PCA are included in the cost of the project, while any work the non-federal sponsor does prior to the PCA is not included or credited. The Conservancy proposes the local Corps District be permitted to give cost-share credit for work undertaken by the non-federal partner within 5 years prior to signing the PCA and after the initial letter of intent. This credit could include such activities as pre-project monitoring and restoration activities. Credit will not be recognized beyond the non-federal sponsor’s cost share requirement and the Corps will not be liable for funds if the PCA is not ultimately signed.
Correct unlimited liability for non-federal sponsor in Project Cooperation Agreements (PCA).
Presently, PCAs permit either party to stop a project if it exceeds agreed project costs. The unlimited liability problem is a clause in the PCA that permits the District Engineer to require a project to be completed at statutorily required cost share for the purposes of public health and safety, and if the project exceeds the statutorily determined cap for federal share, then all additional costs become the responsibility of the non-federal partner. The Conservancy proposes that in the event that the District Engineer determines a project needs to be continued for the purpose of public health and safety, the non-federal sponsor will be responsible for increased project costs up to 20 percent over the original estimated project cost at the statutorily determined cost share. The Corps will assume all costs exceeding 20 percent of the original estimated project cost, notwithstanding the statutorily determined federal share cap.
III. Ecosystem Restoration Priorities
In addition to the projects highlighted above, the Conservancy is actively involved in a variety of restoration efforts across the country. As the committee evaluates the President’s FY08 Budget for the Corps of Engineers and considers a new WRDA bill, we ask you to take into account these significant ecosystem restoration needs. Our top priorities are outlined below.
The Conservancy has a long history of working with partners on conservation projects within the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois River basins . To further these efforts the Conservancy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mississippi Valley Division signed a regional memorandum of agreement to promote collaborative water management of the Mississippi River . The Conservancy's goal is to conserve and restore the ecological structure, function and dynamics of the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers’ basins and their diverse freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. Key strategies for accomplishing this include naturalizing flows, restoring floodplains in these river valleys and promoting compatible agricultural and forestry practices within their basins. Two important restoration authorities are contributing to our restoration work in the Upper Mississippi River basin .
The Upper Mississippi River System Environmental Management Program (EMP) is a Corps program that constructs habitat restoration projects and conducts long-term resource monitoring of the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers . The EMP operates as a unique federal-state partnership involving five states (Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin ). We applaud the committee for authorizing NGOs to be non-federal sponsors for this program in the 2006 WRDA bill, which will increase ecosystem restoration opportunities within the basin. We encourage the committee to maintain this language in this year’s WRDA bill. The Conservancy also supports full funding of $33.2 million for EMP in FY 2008, an increase over the President’s $23.464 million request.
The Enhanced Navigation Capacity Improvements and Ecosystem Restoration Plan for the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway System is a comprehensive ecosystem restoration program that recognizes the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers as multi-purpose rivers that provide important economic and ecological benefits, enriching the quality of life for millions of people. However, regularly and at great cost, ecological functions and benefits have been compromised for economic development. This program will allow the Corps and its partners to begin the task of restoring the ecological health of the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers.
The Nature Conservancy strongly supports a well-funded, robust ecosystem restoration program for the Upper Mississippi River basin . We would like to commend the Committee for including provisions in WRDA as it passed the Senate last year that promote a science-based approach to restoring the upper Mississippi River basin and emphasize a healthy ecosystem through effective and adaptive restoration and management. We ask you to retain these forward-looking provisions as you consider WRDA this year.
The Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Recovery Program supports projects that mitigate for fish and wildlife habitat losses resulting from past channelization efforts on the Missouri River . The Missouri River has an array of aquatic and terrestrial systems containing more than 500 species of mussels, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, five of which are either listed or candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The Corps has completed 30 projects along the river in the lower four states (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska ) resulting in more than 40,000 acres of restored aquatic and floodplain habitat. The Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Recovery Program will not only enhance these restoration efforts, but complement protection and restoration efforts across the basin by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Defense, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The Conservancy is in agreement with the Basin states Governors that program funding should be used basin-wide, including funding for the Yellowstone River Intake project in Montana . The Conservancy also supports the establishment of the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee to oversee and coordinate restoration efforts. We commend the Committee for including these provisions in last year’s Senate-passed WRDA and request that they be retained as you consider WRDA this year. The Conservancy also supports $85.0 million in FY 2008 for the Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Recovery Program.
The South Florida Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Program includes a collection of restoration authorities that function together to restore one of our nation’s most precious natural resources. The Everglades are home to a profusion of bird species, with 347 species recorded within Everglades National Park alone. The ecosystem provides breeding habitat for roseate spoonbills, snail kite, southern bald eagle, Cape sable seaside sparrow, wood stork, white ibis, glossy ibis and eleven species of egrets and herons. For the last sixty years, the Corps has built projects for human benefit that shunted water away from the Everglades . Many factors, including these flood control projects and agricultural and urban development, have contributed to the reduction and degradation of the wetlands ecosystem. Restoration of this globally significant region is a priority for the Conservancy. The Conservancy continues to support robust funding for these efforts and recommends $249.1 million in the South Florida Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Program in FY 2008. This funding will support the following suite of restoration programs:
· Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park ($35 million): This project balances fresh water crossing Tamiami Trail and entering the park. Completing this project is a pressing concern to restore habitat and stave off the danger of an estuarine collapse in Florida Bay .
· Critical Projects Construction ($8.3 million): This special program is made up of nine projects that are critical to the future of the entire ecosystem’s restoration
· Kissimmee River Restoration Construction ($50 million): This project involves restoring water-level fluctuations and seasonal discharges from Lakes Kissimmee, Cypress and Hatchineha in the upper basin. This project features 22 miles of canal backfilling and structure removal along with land acquisition of over 100,000 acres.
· Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) Project Construction ($35 million): Components of this plan include aquifer storage and recovery; construction of surface water storage reservoirs; construction of storm water treatment areas; seepage management; removal of 240 miles of barriers to sheet flow; and reuse of wastewater at two regional plants.
· Central and Southern Florida Project to include the C111, CERP, and STA 1 East projects ($120.8 million): This program includes the Upper St. Johns , Manatee Protection, C-51 and STA-1E, C-111, Miami Canal Study and 10 initial projects of the CERP. Recent progress includes initial construction of manatee pass gates, with all gates expected to be completed this year; completed construction on the C-51 and transfer of operations to the South Florida Water Management District; and continuing design for the next phase of buffer construction for the C-111 project.
The Puget Sound and Adjacent Waters Program provides funding for early action projects to preserve, protect and restore critical ecosystem processes, habitats, and functions within the Puget Sound basin. A Puget Sound Nearshore Marine Habitat Restoration General Investigation study is also underway to examine the needs of the Puget Sound Basin and determine how large-scale management measures, including restoration actions, can benefit the environment. These two efforts are closely coordinated, as the Nearshore study is informing the selection of critical projects for implementation through the Adjacent Waters Program.
Initial assessments of nearshore habitat by the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program indicate that the ecological health of the nearshore ecosystem is in steep decline with more than a third of the system directly impacted by development. This situation is much worse near urban centers and large river deltas, where habitat loss approaches 100 percent. The Puget Sound Basin is home to more than 220 species of fish, 26 different kinds of marine mammals, 150 species of birds and thousands of species of invertebrates. This includes federally-listed Southern resident orcas, Puget Sound chinook and Hood Canal summer chum salmon, bull trout, Stellar sea lion, marbled murrelet, bald eagle, and more than 100 other species of rare plants and animals.
Resources for conservation in this region are limited, urban areas are expanding, and an extraordinary heritage of native species and ecosystems is at risk. The Puget Sound restoration efforts are designed to provide an ecosystem approach to the ongoing Endangered Species Act and other species-specific restoration and recovery initiatives with the goal of achieving a healthy and sustainable Puget Sound basin. The Conservancy supports continued funding for these important restoration efforts and recommends $5 million in FY 2008 for the Puget Sound and Adjacent Waters Program as well as $1.9 million in FY 2008 for the Puget Sound Nearshore Marine Habitat Restoration General Investigation Study.
The Louisiana Coastal Area study (LCA) represents a committed effort to establish highly productive, cost-effective, and long-term coastal restoration projects that are essential to saving Louisiana ’s coastal wetlands. The Louisiana coastal plain remains the largest expanse of coastal wetlands in the contiguous United States . The coastal wetlands, built by the deltaic processes of the Mississippi River , contain an extraordinary diversity of habitats that range from forested swamps to freshwater, brackish, and saltwater marshes. These habitats comprise one of the nation’s most productive and important natural resources. Coastal Louisiana produces 20 percent of the seafood in the United States and includes deep-draft ports that handle 16 percent of the nation’s waterborne commerce by tonnage. Coastal wetlands also provide critical stopover habitat for neotropical songbirds on their migration between North and Central America .
Coastal Louisiana is home to over two million people, representing 46 percent of the state’s population. In addition to providing vital habitat to commercial and recreational wildlife and fishery resources, the coastal wetlands protect an internationally significant commercial-industrial area from the destructive forces of coastal storms. The need for the storm mitigating capacity of healthy coastal wetlands was highlighted by the devastation of the 2005 hurricanes that struck the Louisiana coast.
The Nature Conservancy strongly supports authorization and funding of a large-scale program for restoration of this nationally important resource. We applaud the committee for including provisions in WRDA as it passed the Senate last year that promote a science-based program to support the restoration and recovery of Louisiana ’s coastal wetlands. We ask you to retain these forward-looking provisions as you consider WRDA this year, and we call for continued commitment to funding for restoration of the Louisiana coast.
In conclusion, our experience suggests that ecosystem restoration should be one of our nation’s top water resource priorities. The Corps and its partners are developing remarkable projects that achieve significant economic and environmental gains and are highly responsive to local interests. Congress should support this innovative work by passing WRDA and making ecosystem restoration a funding priority.
I would like to thank the Chairman and the entire Subcommittee for the opportunity to share this testimony with you today.