Click here to watch Chairman Barrasso’s remarks.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), delivered the following remarks at a committee oversight hearing on “Flood Control Infrastructure: Safety Questions Raised by Current Events.”
The hearing featured testimony from Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, commanding general and chief of engineers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the Honorable Terry Wolf, chairman of the Washakie County Commissioners; the Honorable Ron Corbett, Mayor of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Secretary John Laird, deputy secretary for external affairs for the California Natural Resources Agency; and Mr. Larry Larson, director emeritus and senior policy advisor for the Association of State Floodplain Managers Inc.
For more information on their testimonies click here.
Senator Barrasso’s remarks:
“President Trump has made improving our nation’s infrastructure a top priority, and this committee is continuing its efforts to highlight our nation’s infrastructure needs.
“As I have stated, infrastructure is critical to our nation’s prosperity.
“In personal meetings I have had with the members of this committee both sides of the aisle; infrastructure is always listed as a top priority.
“It is a priority because it is a driver of our nation’s economy, and it impacts every community.
“This committee has a long history of working together in a bipartisan way on infrastructure issues. I want to continue that tradition.
“The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has sweeping jurisdiction over our nation’s infrastructure.
“Our last hearing focused on highways and roads, and the needs of rural water systems, all of which are within this committee’s purview.
“Recent natural weather events in the last month in California and other western states are highlighting the need to focus our attention on our levees and dams, and other structures, that prevent catastrophic flooding in both rural and urban communities.
“Earlier this month, more than 180,000 people were evacuated in California because storms caused serious damage to the Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the United States.
“The potential threat of dam failure is of serious concern to state officials and to the people living downstream of Oroville.
“Any future severe weather event could make this situation even more critical, and it is raising questions about the readiness of our flood prevention infrastructure.
“Dams and levees across the country need to be modernized and maintained if we are to prevent future disasters.
“I believe any infrastructure bill that this committee develops should consider the need to maintain and modernize these structures.
“Winter weather events are not just affecting California but are occurring across the West, hitting towns big and small.
“These events include ice jam flooding in northern Wyoming along the Big Horn River in towns like Worland, Manderson and Greybull. As well as towns located to south like Riverton, Lander, Hudson, and areas of the Wind River Reservation.
“This past month the ice jam floods have damaged over 100 homes in Worland, a city of roughly 5,000 people.
“These floods have serious, lasting impacts.
“In the past, blocks of ice the size of cars sit for weeks on playgrounds and front lawns.
“The river ice damages everything from public structures like water treatment plants and public parks, to private homes and small businesses.
“These ice jams are regular occurrences, harming small towns not just in Wyoming, but in other states from the Dakotas to upstate New York.
“For these small towns, the cost of cleanup and repair is an enormous burden from which it takes months to fully recover.
“In certain instances, flooding could be mitigated by the Army Corps providing more flexibility in allowing towns to take the steps they need to protect their communities.
“Our committee has jurisdiction over the environmental laws that impact the modernization of infrastructure.
“Often times in rural states, federal ‘one-size-fits-all’ rules can have absurd results on the ground.
“If removing a tree or a pile of dirt, which might only take days to accomplish, can make a difference in preventing a catastrophic flood, a town shouldn’t have to go through a lengthy bureaucratic process to remove those features, while the town floods yearly.
“Bureaucratic red tape should be cut where people’s lives and property are on the line, which is always the case when we are talking about flooding.
“Dams and levees are the most common infrastructure to address flooding.
“However, new technology can also help mitigate the threat of flooding, including ice jams.
“I included language in Title 1 of the Water Resources Development Act this committee enacted last Congress, creating an Army Corps pilot program to develop innovative and cost savings technology to address the threat of ice jams.
“The program needs to be implemented.
“I also would like to note that in the past two WRDA bills this committee provided additional authority to both the Corps and to FEMA to help states, local governments and dam owners address deficient levees and dams.
“It is time to implement these authorities.
“I also would like to hear what else this committee and the Army Corps can do to improve existing infrastructure, build new infrastructure, reduce red tape, and develop lifesaving technology and materials to prevent flooding.”