Boxer Opening Statement: EPW Hearing entitled, “The Midwest Floods: What Happened and What Might Be Improved for Managing Risk and Responses in the Future”
July 23, 2008
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Today, the Committee meets to examine the Midwest floods of 2008 and consider ways of improving flood protection and flood response.
We are joined today by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, John Paul Woodley, and Brigadier General Michael J. Walsh, Commanding General, U.S. Army Engineer Division, Mississippi Valley.
But before we hear from the Corps officials, we are pleased to be joined by some of our colleagues from Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri.
Senators, welcome. Your constituents have suffered through a terrible season of devastating flooding, and the Committee looks forward to hearing your testimony.
This summer's flooding in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Missouri floods resulted as unusually heavy precipitation inundated the Midwestern region of the US throughout the early part of 2008 and continuing into the summer.
According to data from the Department of Commerce, over 1100 daily precipitation records were broken across the Midwest in-mostly in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri.
Further complicating matters is that prior to June's extreme rains, much of the Upper Mississippi Basins had already experienced very wet conditions from the spring and winter-indeed, precipitation across the Upper Mississippi Basin from December 2007 through May 2008 was the 2nd wettest since 1895.
Naturally, this already overly-saturated region could not stand much more-and the impacts were devastating.
I would like to take a few moments and share a few images of this catastrophic event.
First, we have a levee overtopping in Missouri.
This next chart demonstrates an aerial view of what happens when a levee breaches.
Finally, this chart dramatically shows just how terrible flooding can be, with homes and other structures uprooted and slammed into a bridge.
But there are some statistics that can be just as dramatic as pictures.
At least two dozen people died and 148 people sustained injuries due to the floods.
41 levees overtopped in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.
Tens of thousands of people had to leave their homes to escape the flooding.
And many economists predict that the floods are to blame for at least $8 billion in losses to crop production.
Economic damages will likely be higher after losses to livestock, farm machinery, buildings and infrastructure are accounted for-this last point is something all Americans will feel, whether they live in the Midwest or not.
I will let the Senators waiting to testify tell the rest of the story.
But I believe these tragic floods have served as a wake-up call-our nation's water infrastructure needs to be carefully reviewed, and carefully shored up.
Having led a congressional delegation to New Orleans last year, I saw for myself what happens when we neglect our nation's flood control infrastructure.
Like Hurricane Katrina, there is a lesson to be learned from the Midwest Floods: that we must shore up our nation's water and flood control infrastructure BEFORE catastrophe strikes-not afterwards.
And even though most of the levees that failed in this year's flooding were non-federal, we can do so much more to help communities protect themselves.
Indeed, in the 2007 WRDA, we enacted a significant program to inventory and assess many of our nation's levees.
However, that was only a first step. I look forward to working with colleagues to improve and expand that program to inventory and assess every levee in the country-as the Senate-passed WRDA bill included.
I am confident that this tragedy will help recommit our country and this Congress to shoring up our nation's water infrastructure.
Last year, I was proud to join with Senator Inhofe, and all members of this Committee, to lead the floor fight to overturn the President's ill-advised veto of WRDA 07, by a vote of 79-14.
Like that vote, I hope that we can come together and begin to tackle this problem again.
I look forward to the testimony of the Senators and Secretary Woodley and Brigadier General Walsh.