406 Dirksen EPW Hearing Room

Rear Admiral Nicholas A. Prahl


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:



I am honored to appear before you as the nominee for member of the Mississippi River Commission.


Mr. Chairman, I would like to make a brief statement about the Mississippi River Commission, the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MR&T) project, and my qualifications for the position for which I have been nominated.


The Mississippi River Commission, established by Act of Congress on June 28, 1879, consists of seven members, all of whom are appointed by the President of the United States subject to confirmation by the Senate. Three members are Corps of Engineers officers, one of whom serves as president; one member is from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and three members are from the civilian sector, two of whom must be civil engineers.


From its inception in 1879, the Commission has been charged with the vital task of planning and implementing a program of flood damage reduction projects and navigation improvements on the Mississippi River. More recently, project purposes have been expanded to include environmental restoration. This task continues to be conducted in concert with the myriad of political institutions, individuals, and public entities which have major interests in seeing that the water resources needs and opportunities of the Mississippi Valley are evaluated, planned, designed, constructed, and maintained.


As established in 1879, the Commissioners were to serve as advisors in planning and implementing water resource projects and programs on the Mississippi River between the Head of Passes below New Orleans to its headwaters. Since 1928, the Commission has focused on the Mississippi River and Tributaries project, authorized by the Flood Control Act of May 15, 1928, to be implemented under oversight of the Commission. The MR&T project extends generally from the confluence of the Ohio River to the Head of Passes below New Orleans and covers portions of seven states. It receives water from all or portions of 31 states and part of two Canadian provinces, or roughly 41 percent of the contiguous United States. Effective planning, design, construction, and operation of the widespread and complex MR&T project have been assisted greatly by the Commission's active consultation with the public, particularly on its semiannual lower Mississippi River inspection trips, and by the high degree of professionalism that has been developed in its staff.


The MR&T project is truly of national significance. For example, a major flood on the lower Mississippi River would have catastrophic effects on the inhabitants of the Mississippi Valley and the economy of the nation were it not for the protection provided by the levees and other flood control works throughout the project area. Many have noted that the comprehensive project on the lower river provided for passage of major floods in 1973, 1983, 1997, and other years without the extensive damage suffered in the upper river area during the 1993 and 1995 flood events.


In addition, the navigation features of the project are essential to maintaining the river for shipping import and export commodities between inland ports and world markets. In short, the navigation features of the MR&T project are essential in peacetime and vital to our national defense in times of emergency.


A reorganization of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in April 1997 placed the entire length of the Mississippi River within the Mississippi Valley Division of the Corps of Engineers. The Commander of this Division also serves as President of the Mississippi River Commission. The reorganization now allows management of the Mississippi River as a single and unified system and enables the Commissioners to more effectively serve as advisors to the Division Commander and the Chief of Engineers as authorized in the 1879 legislation.


The Commission members have been active as advisors to the Corps on the Upper Mississippi River since the reorganization. The Commission has conducted annual inspection trips on the Upper Mississippi River since August 1997 and has held a series of public meetings in the St. Paul, Rock Island, and St. Louis Districts each year. These meetings are in addition to the semiannual inspection trips and public meetings in the Memphis, Vicksburg, and New Orleans Districts.


With regards to my personal qualifications, I have served as a member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Commissioned Corps for 33 years next month. I have commanded and managed at several levels during my career. Many of these assignments are relevant to my pending confirmation. Since June of 1999, I have served as Director, Marine Operations Center, NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations, where I have the responsibility for the management of NOAA’s fleet of 17 research and survey vessels operating out of marine centers, laboratories and port offices from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Woods Hole, Massachusetts. These ships support NOAA’s critical mission requirements for nautical charting, fisheries research and stock assessment, and oceanographic research.


In field assignments, I have served on the NOAA ships McARTHUR, GEORGE B. KELEZ, WHITING, FAIRWEATHER, and MT MITCHELL, the latter as Commanding Officer. These vessels were involved in nautical charting, marine ecosystem oceanography, and geophysical surveys.


In assignments ashore I have been responsible for processing geophysical survey data, the research and operational planning of a comprehensive marine ecological assessment of the New York Bight, and implementing bilateral agreements in cooperative oceanographic research with the Soviet Union and France. Later, I was Chief of the Planning Division of the National Ocean Survey, at the time one of NOAA’s line offices.


Over the past fifteen years, I have served as the Deputy Director of the Coast and Geodetic Survey where I was responsible for assisting the Director in the management of the Nation’s nautical and aeronautical charting and geodesy programs. Following that assignment, I served as Chief of the Marine Chart Division with the responsibility for the production of the Nation’s suite of nautical charts, bathymetric maps and related navigational products and services. Following Command aboard Mt MITCHELL, I returned to headquarters as the Deputy and then Acting Director of the Office of Coast Survey. In that position, I was the National Hydrographer responsible for the Nation’s nautical charting program from data collection to chart production.


As a designated member of the Mississippi River Commission since May 1999, I have accompanied the Commission on high and low water inspection trips of the Mississippi River and Tributaries and have participated in the public meetings held by the Commission over the past three and half years. This experience has given me considerable insight into the importance of the Mississippi River and its Tributaries as a National resource for transportation and recreation. Also, I have come to understand and appreciate the need for a balanced approach in resolving the often conflicting requirements for flood control, navigation, and environmental protection and restoration.



I am a native of Massachusetts, and received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in geology in 1967. I later received master’s degrees from the University of Colorado in geology in 1969 and The Johns Hopkins University in computer science in 1986.


I believe my background and experience qualify me for an appointment to the Mississippi River Commission. If confirmed to the position, Mr. Chairman, I would look forward to playing a role in the continual improvement of the Mississippi River system and the MR&T project by recommending, through the Commission’s oversight responsibilities, the application of the most modern practices in water resources engineering. I would also look forward to being part of a Commission that focuses not only on the traditional roles of safely passing the Mississippi River Basin floodwaters to the Gulf of Mexico and providing a safe and dependable navigable waterway, but also incorporating programs and projects for environmental protection and restoration.


Mr. Chairman, for your information, I have attached a complete personal biography and a current list of members of the Mississippi River Commission.


This completes my prepared statement, and I would be pleased to respond to any questions.