On September 24, 2007, the Senate passed the conference report to H.R.1495, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), by an overwhelming, bipartisan vote of 81 to 12. The House and Senate passage of the conference report ends seven years of Congressional deadlock about how to best invest in environmental restoration and storm protection along the Gulf Coast, support the restoration of wetlands and their accompanying ecosystems across the country, improve transit and increase environmental protection along America’s waterways, and improve the safety of levees nationwide.
Since 2000, Americans have urged the federal government to secure water infrastructure in their communities — much of which is vital to protecting homes from catastrophic flooding. This year, Democrats worked with Republicans to end this gridlock by passing WRDA in the House and Senate. The WRDA conference report would reform the Army Corps of Engineers by making operational improvements, requiring independent peer review of certain projects, and helping ensure cost-efficiency. In spite of the President’s veto threat, Democrats are committed to meeting the needs of America’s water infrastructure and environment.
· Protecting the Gulf Coast. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina brought a renewed national focus on the important protections that flood walls, levees, and wetlands provide the Gulf Coast. The United States Geological Survey reports that coastal Louisiana has lost an average of 34 square miles of marsh land each year. Over fifty years–that totals 1,900 square miles of land or an area that is about the size of state of Delaware.
WRDA authorizes $3.5 billion for the Louisiana Coast to advance its efforts to reverse wetland losses and provide hurricane and storm damage reduction benefits. In addition, the conference report would authorize spending to raise levee heights to give the region 100-year flood protection, provide New Orleans with increased hurricane protection, and authorize a Louisiana Water Resources Council to peer review the work of the Army Corps of Engineers.
· Preserving the Florida Everglades. The Florida Everglades are one of the world’s largest wetlands that helps protect Florida from hurricanes and provides wildlife habitat to a varying number of plant and animal species. In 2000, Congress approved the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan that provides as an outline for successful conservation and restoration efforts in the everglades.
WRDA would authorize approximately $2 billion for projects that will help meet the goals of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan that aims to protect the unique ecology of the Everglades, increase freshwater flows into natural areas, and help avert the loss of wildlife habitat and maintain the hydrologic balance of the region.
· Ensuring levee safety. The United States maintains thousands of miles of levees across the country to help protect families, farmers, and communities from floods. The failures of the levees that surrounded New Orleans raised the issue of levee safety to an urgent national priority.
WRDA makes a series of improvements to levee safety inspections that will help maintain effective levees in every region of the country. The bill will: 1) require a database to be maintained with an inventory of the nation’s levees and make that information available to governments; 2) develop recommendations for a national levee safety program; 3) require inspections on the general condition of levees; and 4) estimate the number of structures and population at risk if levees fail.
· Improving shipping and the environment. On average, over $5.5 billion worth of goods move in and out of U.S. ports each day. Ports and waterways across the country process more than $2.5 billion tons of trade each year and that volume could double within the next fifteen years. WRDA will help to meet those challenges while also recognizing the need to mitigate against the degradation of important ecosystems within.
The conference reportwill also authorize spending of $256 million for near-term navigation improvements and ecosystem restoration along the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway as well as the creation of an advisory panel to provide independent guidance in the development of environmental and navigation improvements.