MR PRESIDENT: After much negotiation, the Senate is considering today S. 728 the Water Resources Development Act of 2006. As the world’s leading maritime and trading nation, the United States relies on an efficient Maritime Transportation System to maintain its role as a global power. The bill we debate today is the cornerstone of that system.
Water Resources Development Act or WRDA sets out the federal policy and procedure for the United States Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) to maintain and build our inland and intracoastal waterway system, which carries one-sixth of the Nation’s volume of intercity cargo. In addition, the Corps is responsible for maintaining appropriate channel depths in ports along our coasts and the Great Lakes to handle 95% all foreign trade into and out of the country. In fact, more than 67% of all consumer goods pass through harbors maintained by the Corps of Engineers. WRDA also authorizes the Corps to work with communities on various flood damage reduction and hurricane and storm damage reduction projects designed to protect human life and property.
Inland and intracostal waterways, which serve states on the Atlantic seaboard, the Gulf Coast and the Pacific Northwest, move about 630 million tons of cargo valued at over $70 billion annually. Furthermore, it is estimated that the average transportation cost savings to users of the system is $10.67 per ton or $7 billion annually over other modes of transportation.
The nearly 12,000 miles of inland and intracostal waterways include 192 commercially active lock and dam sites. Over 50 percent of the locks and dams operated by the Corps are more than 50 years old and consequently, are approaching the end of their design life and are in need of modernization or major rehabilitation. This bill authorizes ongoing work to modernize and rehabilitate our inland and intracostal waterway system.
In the 1800's, the Corps was first called upon to address flood problems along the Mississippi River. Since then, the Corps has continued to provide flood damage reduction along the Mississippi River and other in regions of the country. These efforts range from small, local protection projects, such as levees or nonstructural measures, to major dams. Today most of the structures are owned by sponsoring cities, towns, and agricultural districts. Although the Corps cannot prevent all damage from floods, the Corps’ efforts do significantly reduce the cost of flood events. To illustrate this point consider that during the 10 years from 1991 through 2000, the country suffered $45 billion in property damage from floods. If Corps flood damage reduction measures had not been in place, however, that figure would have been more than $208 billion in damage. Clearly, flood control is a wise investment.
Similarly, the Corps also participates in and this bill authorizes hurricane and storm damage reduction projects along our nation’s coasts, as well as projects to combat shoreline erosion.
The third core mission of the Corps of Engineers is ecosystem restoration. Working with non-Federal sponsors, the Corps implements single purpose ecosystem restoration projects, multi-purpose projects with ecosystem restoration components, or projects for flood protection or navigation that incorporate environmental features as good engineering. The Corps has restored, created, and protected over 500,000 acres of wetland and other habitats between 1988 and 2004. In some cases, existing water resources projects are modified to achieve restoration benefits. This bill includes authorization of several such projects, including three major restoration projects in Louisiana, Florida and the Upper Mississippi River basin.
Unfortunately, like other infrastructure bills, WRDA has been derided in the press as nothing more than a “pork” bill. During the debate here in the Senate, we may hear from some who will agree. As one of the primary authors of the bill, allow me to explain why this charge, if raised, is not accurate.
First, contrary to popular belief, this bill is not just project authorizations; it also contains significant policy changes designed to ensure an efficient and effective process for addressing our nation’s water resources needs. Later in this debate, Senators will have an opportunity to consider several amendments on further policy reforms.
The bill does have project authorizations. It is an unfortunate fact of life that when infrastructure bills are debated, we first have to battle back the charge that all we are doing is funding unneeded projects. Let’s look at the facts. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers 2005 Report Card on America’s Infrastructure, none of the nation’s primary infrastructure, such as roads, airports, drinking water facilities, wastewater managements systems, get above a C and most receive a D. We are quickly approaching a crisis that if ignored will dramatically stunt continued economic growth.
As one of the most fiscally conservative members of this body, I have long argued that the two most important functions of the federal government is to provide for the national defense and public infrastructure. So I am not shy about voting for increased authorization and spending on national defense needs or public infrastructure. At the same time we have to spend limited taxpayer dollars wisely. With that in mind, the Committee established a very firm policy of what types of project requests that we would consider. Every project authorization included in the bill is based on a Report of the Chief of Engineers verifying that the project is technically feasible, economically justified and environmentally acceptable. Furthermore, we did not include environmental infrastructure projects, such as water treatment facilities, or river front development projects because neither of these are Corps of Engineers missions. Finally, we did not authorize cost-share waivers on existing or new projects.
At the appropriate time, Senator Bond and I will be offering two amendments, one on prioritization of projects and another establishing a procedure of independent peer review. Both of these issues are important reforms to the program. We agree that Congress needs better analysis so we can more easily compare individual projects thereby ensuring the most needed projects are addressed in a timely manner. Independent peer review fulfils a critical function of ensure that policy makers are using accurate information to make decisions; therefore, Senator Bond and I will be offering an amendment to clarifying which projects should undergo independent peer review.
Finally, some have expressed concern about the size of the bill. I understand and appreciate those concerns. However, I would point out that it has been 6 years since the last WRDA was signed into law. Traditionally, WRDA is done every two years. Given the six year lag, what the Senate is being asked to consider represents what would be three WRDAs if we had kept to the two year schedule. Given that, I believe the cost is reasonable.
For the benefit of those who may not be familiar the Army Corps Civil Works program, allow me to explain how it works. The program includes the planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of water resource projects. These projects are designed to provide the nation with improved flood damage reduction, hurricane and storm damage reduction (shore protection), navigation, ecosystem restoration, hydroelectric power, recreation and other various water resources needs. Virtually all water resources projects are cost-shared with a local sponsor. The statutory cost-share varies depending on the type of project.
Projects generally originate with a request for assistance from a community or local government entity with a water resource need that is beyond its capability to alleviate. A study authority allows the Corps to investigate a problem and determine if there is a federal interest in proceeding further.
If the Corps has performed a study in the geographic area before, a new study can be authorized by a resolution of either the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works or the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. If the Corps has not previously investigated the area, the study needs to be authorized by an act of Congress, typically through a WRDA bill.
Army Corps studies are usually undertaken in two stages. The first, called a reconnaissance study (or recon study), is a general investigation, including an overview of the problem, identification of potential local sponsors (state, tribal, county, or local agencies or governments or non-profit organizations) and an initial determination of a federal interest. A recon study is done at full federal expense, usually costs one to two hundred thousand dollars and usually can be completed in about one year.
The second stage is a feasibility study, which is the detailed analysis of alternatives, costs, benefits and environmental and other impacts. A feasibility study is cost-shared 50-50 with a local sponsor, usually costs upwards of a million dollars and takes up to several years to complete.
Congress must provide authorization for the Corps to begin the recon study, but the Corps can move from the recon to feasibility stage without further authorization. Based on the results of the study, the Chief of Engineers may sign a final recommendation on the project, known as the Chief’s Report. Accordingly, the Committee has used a favorable Chief’s Report as the basis for authorizing projects.
Before a I yield the floor to my colleagues, I want to point out some other provisions in the Manager’s substitute amendment that were added to the committee reported bill. The primary changes were made in response to the devastating hurricanes that hit Louisiana last year.
We are proposing a new National Levee Safety Program designed after the National Dam Safety Program. The new levee safety program requires that a national inventory be made of all levees and that those levees that protect human life and public safety be inspected. As with the Dam Safety program, the provision establishes a state grant program to encourage States to establish their own safety program, as these activities are best handled at the local level.
We also made some changes to the language already in the bill to authorize a project for coastal wetlands restoration in Louisiana. These changes are intended to address the two main suggestions for process improvements that the Environment and Public Works Committee heard from a broad range of stakeholders following hurricane Katrina.
First, we try to do a better job of addressing our water resources needs in a comprehensive, integrated manner, rather than in the traditional stovepipe manner of separate missions areas.
Second, the time it takes between identifying a water resources need to completing a solution is significantly longer than it should be. Our substitute amendment addresses the time from identification of need to solution.
In closing, I urge members to support the bill as amended by the substitute and believe that while not perfect, the bill does achieve important reforms and in a limited way addresses some of our water resources needs.