Statement of Senator Barbara Boxer
Oversight Hearing on Implementation of Corps of Engineers Water Resources Policies
February 7, 2013
Today, we continue this Committee's oversight of the Army Corps of Engineers by looking at its water resources policies and how they impact communities across the nation.
The Corps of Engineers' flood control projects keep our families safe and provide enormous economic benefits. The Corps has also contributed to the construction of over 14,000 miles of levees across the country, and the Corps estimates that its flood protection efforts prevent $37.1 billion annually in damages.
The testimony we hear today will help us as we move forward with the next Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which authorizes the Corps' projects and programs. The devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy last year has placed a spotlight on the need to ensure that communities have critical flood protection, which is one of the primary goals of the WRDA bill.
Sandy and other extreme weather events in recent years have resulted in the loss of life, caused billions of dollars of damage, and wiped out entire communities. I have proposed a new title for the WRDA bill that will enable the Corps of Engineers to help communities better prepare for and reduce the risks of extreme weather-related disasters, including severe flooding.
There are other goals we want to accomplish in the WRDA legislation that will help many local governments, including those in my home State of California. Our draft WRDA bill includes a provision that will allow the Corps to consider regional differences and work with state and local governments to develop the most appropriate approach for managing levee vegetation.
In California, vegetation not only provides stability for many levees, it also offers the last remaining habitat for some endangered species, such as salmon. After evaluating its levees and identifying critical maintenance and repair needs, California has rightly prioritized its projects to address the most pressing problems first.
The Corps has begun working with California and other states to consider regional approaches to vegetation management. The Corps has also stated that it will allow local officials to address the worst problems first. I am encouraged by this progress toward allowing greater flexibility and believe we must make this localized approach to vegetation management permanent.
Another issue that we must address in the WRDA bill is the Corps' policy for providing credit for work carried out by non-Federal sponsors of Corps projects. In California, state and local governments are bringing billions of dollars to the table to improve flood protection. Unfortunately, the Corps' crediting policies may be discouraging local investments.
State and local participation is vital. That is why I have worked with Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy to give non-Federal sponsors more flexibility. I appreciate the commitments she has already made to consider exceptions that will allow non-Federal sponsors to proceed with work ahead of the Corps if it will improve public safety or provide other benefits. This type of flexibility is something we should make permanent as part of the next WRDA bill.
I look forward to working with the Corps on these and other important issues that will be raised today. This hearing will help us tremendously as we identify ways to improve the Corps' policies and practices in the next WRDA bill.
Senator Vitter and I will continue to work with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address their concerns. I appreciate everyone's participation in today's hearing.