Thursday, May 17, 2007

Senate Passes Its Version Of Water Resources Development Act

May 16: The U.S. Senate, by a vote of 91-4, passed its $13.9 billion version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA, H.R.1495). The Senate insisted on its amendment and requested a conference to resolve the differences between the House-passed, $15 billion version, approved by a vote of by a vote of 394-25, on April 19, 2007 [See WIMS 4/30/07]. U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Senators James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Max Baucus (D-MT), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, thanked their colleagues for their bipartisan support for the bill.

According to a release from Senator Boxer, the bill will authorize America’s essential flood control, navigation, and ecosystem restoration projects in a way that is fiscally responsible and technically sound. The bill authorizes nearly $2 billion for wetlands restoration and flood control projects to put Louisiana on the path to Category V storm protection, and authorizes dozens of other critical water projects nationwide. The passage of a WRDA bill is a top priority for the EPW Committee.

Boxer said, “This bill meets our communities’ and our nation’s acute and unmet water infrastructure needs and it does it in a fiscally responsible way. One of the lessons of Hurricane Katrina is that we ignore our water infrastructure needs at our nation’s peril. This bill makes a substantial commitment to protecting Louisiana’s coasts and communities. Some of the communities this bill will protect have waited seven years or more for these projects. This bill will end that wait, but it will also ensure that we avoid the mistakes of the past by making sure future projects receive the serious analysis and careful implementation they deserve. The Water Resources Development Act and the projects, policies, and programs it authorizes are essential components of keeping our economy growing. From trade to transportation, disaster prevention to rural recreation, this bill helps America compete in the world and stay strong and safe at home.”

Senator Inhofe said, “In passing WRDA today, the Senate took a significant step forward in improving our nation's water resource needs. The WRDA bill passed by the Senate meets many of the most critical water resource needs facing our nation today. For example, the WRDA bill improves navigation and increases capacity and efficiency of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, provides measure to increase hurricane and storm damage protection through wetlands preservation and restoration, and creates an inventory of the nation’s levees with assessments of high risk levees in order to protect people and property. I am pleased to work with my colleagues on the Committee to get this legislation passed. As the Ranking Member, I will continue to work with my EPW colleagues to expedite this bill back to conference with the House and to the President as soon as possible.”

The bill includes a provision authored by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) that will authorize the use of Federal funds to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to complete the Asian Carp Barrier project. The barrier will prevent the spread of invasive species, including Asian Carp, between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Durbin said, "The Asian Carp threatens both the native fish and natural wildlife of the lake and in turn, the economy of the entire Great Lakes region. Currently, this invasive species threatens a $4.1 billion sport and commercial fishing industry in the Great Lakes. The bill passed today recognizes the threat of the Asian Carp by authorizing the permanent operation of the barrier system to prevent these harmful fish from entering the waters of the Great Lakes."

The legislation will authorize the Corps of Engineers to complete construction on a permanent barrier and to upgrade and make permanent the original demonstration barrier. This bill avoids potential construction delays and funding problems by allowing the federal government to fully fund the barrier project. In addition, the legislation authorizes federal funding for a feasibility study to investigate the options and technologies available to form a more comprehensive strategy to prevent the spread of invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and other aquatic pathways.

According to a release from American Rivers, "The Senate bill makes it clear that the status quo at the Corps is no longer acceptable. The Senate bill would establish meaningful, independent peer review of costly or controversial Corps projects; significant improvements to the Corps’ mitigation practices; updating of the Corps’ long-outdated planning guidelines; a new national policy for the Corps on floodplain protection; and an interagency assessment of the nation’s flood risks and flood protection programs."

An amendment offered by Senator John Kerry (D-MA), that would direct the Army Corps of Engineers to factor climate change into all future water projects fell short by 9 votes of a 60 vote requirement imposed by opponents of the amendment. According to a release from Senator Kerry, the amendment would direct the Army Corps of Engineers to use the best available climate science, account for potential future impacts of climate change on storms and floods, and account for the costs and benefits associated with the loss and protection of wetlands, floodplains, and other natural systems that can buffer the effects of climate change. The Kerry amendment was supported by numerous national, state, and local conservation and environmental organizations.

Access a release from Senator Boxer (
click here). Access a release from Senator Durbin (click here). Access a release from American Rivers (click here). Access a release from Senator Kerry and link to his amendment (click here). Access legislative details for H.R.1495 (click here). Access links to the latest media coverage on the Senate passage (click here). [*Water, *Climate]