Graves & Westerman Statements from Hearing on WRDA Implementation & Future Water Resources Needs
Opening remarks, as prepared, of Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) and Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-AR) from today’s hearing entitled, “Water Resources Development Acts: Status of Implementation and Assessing Future Needs”:
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO):
In the past three Congresses, this Committee has passed three Water Resources Development Acts (WRDAs), and I look forward to again working together to enact another one into law in 2020.
As we look at the future water needs of the country, one of the most relevant issues continues to be the extensive flooding on the Upper Mississippi and Missouri River Basins. Back in 2011, we thought we had learned our lesson after the historic Missouri River flooding, but once again, eight years later, we find ourselves in even worse shape.
While we don’t know what the full cost of this flooding season will be, we anticipate that it is probably going to be several billion dollars. The costs of flood damage are extensive and include agriculture losses, business interruption, infrastructure damage, and individual and public assistance.
The first levee breaches in my district occurred in mid-March, and some ground has been underwater ever since then – flooded for almost four months. When farmland is flooded for that long, it can be completely covered in sand and sediment, rendering it unusable for years.
My district has about 81 levee systems and 2,552 miles of levees protecting highly productive farmland and thousands of residents and businesses along the Missouri River alone. Virtually every levee from Iowa to Kansas City overtopped or breached from the initial March event. And again in the May and June flooding events, almost every levee downstream of Kansas City overtopped or breached.
When levees breach, residents often only have a few hours to collect what belongings they can to get out of danger; thousands of acres of farmland become utterly devastated and may never see a crop again; road closures cost gas stations, restaurants, retailers, and other businesses income; and ultimately, it costs local jurisdictions a lot of revenue. States, counties, cities, and a lot of other local entities are going to continue to have to spend money they simply don’t have for critical infrastructure repairs and municipal services.
But the most important impacts of floods are the impacts on people. These are my neighbors, friends, and family. The displacement and disruption of people’s lives is more than just dollars and cents. It’s a disruption of their peace of mind, their feeling of safety, and the prospect of having to pick up the pieces and trying to rebuild their lives and their community.
Missourians are tough. And we will get through this together. But we cannot lose perspective of what was really lost here as we strive for better outcomes from the public policy that we debate in Congress.
It is very important that we hear from our witnesses today about the devastation this flood has caused. But it is just as important to hear what we think the future needs to be when it comes to managing the Upper Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.
I believe, personally, that we are asking the Corps of Engineers to balance too many priorities – and that when life, property, and safety are at stake, flood control must always be priority number one. From Gavins Point Dam to the mouth of the Missouri River, we are slated to spend only $13 million on annual levee maintenance, while we are slated to spend $30.7 million on wildlife reclamation and habitat creation in that same stretch of river. The fact of the matter is there must be some adjustments made for the consideration of people’s lives and property.
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-AR):
Thank you Chairwoman Napolitano for holding this important hearing, and thank you to our witnesses for being here today to discuss the important work of the Army Corps of Engineers.
I’m proud to be able to work on this Committee that has been able to pass three major, transformational WRDA laws in the last three Congresses to improve our Nation’s water resources infrastructure. With this tremendous accomplishment, I want to urge the Corps to expeditiously implement some of the great reforms from these three laws.
As we look forward to future water resources legislation, one issue that cannot be overlooked is the flooding that has occurred across the Nation.
While the Arkansas River was swollen to historic levels, flooding homes, breaching levees, and devastating farmland, Arkansas is by no means alone in these experiences. Our neighbors in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and beyond have all been affected by heavy rains this year. Unprecedented flooding such as this should serve as a catalyst for us to re-examine infrastructure, to ensure it is updated and capable of protecting life and property.
In Arkansas alone, we’ve seen an estimated 23 million dollars in daily economic loss along the Arkansas River as barges and boats can no longer navigate our inland waterways. Much of this waterborne commerce is dependent on infrastructure that was initially constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, and is quickly approaching the end of its shelf life.
So as the flood waters recede across the Nation, it is important for this Committee to continue its bipartisan commitment to work and pass critical water resources legislation. We can’t afford another year of flooded homes and washed out farmlands. The American people deserve better than this.
I look forward to hearing about the Corps’ implementation of the recent WRDAs, and hearing constructive ideas from our witnesses across both panels on addressing our future water resources infrastructure needs.
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