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Westerman Statement from Hearing on WRDA & Water Resources Infrastructure Resiliency

Washington, November 19, 2019 | Justin Harclerode (202) 225-9446 | comments
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Opening remarks, as prepared, of Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-AR) from today’s hearing entitled, “Concepts for the Next Water Resources Development Act: Promoting Resiliency of our Nation’s Water Resources Infrastructure”:

Thank you, Chairwoman Napolitano.  I want to thank all of today’s witnesses, and Ms. Ufner in particular, who I understand just recently took over the National Waterways Conference.  I’d also like to take a moment to thank Amy Larsen, outgoing president of the Conference, for her many years of work on behalf of inland navigation, flood control, and water supply interests – all of which are critical to constituents in my home state.

The Army Corps of Engineers is the Nation’s largest owner of water resources projects – managing more than 1,500 projects.  This includes being the largest generator of hydropower in the Nation, providing water storage opportunities to cities and industry, regulating continued operation and development in navigable waters, and providing disaster response and recovery during emergencies, among others.

All told, these missions protect our citizens and ensure that our local and national economies thrive.  Therefore, it is imperative to the millions of Americans who rely on these projects that we ensure they are operating well into the future and serving the purposes for which they were developed.

But as we know, the state of our water resources infrastructure is very poor.  Most of this infrastructure was built many, many decades in the past and has not been adequately maintained.  In one of the most oft-cited statistics in this subcommittee, the American Society of Civil Engineers has given water infrastructure a D+.

I know how important this infrastructure is. Earlier this summer, hundreds of homes in my home state of Arkansas were affected by the flooding, bridges were closed, and barge traffic was stopped.  At one point this was costing my home state over $20 million in economic losses every day.

Over the past several appropriations cycles, including supplemental emergency funding bills, the Corps Civil Works program has never been flusher with funding – well over $15 billion in the last two fiscal years alone.  We need to expeditiously turn this funding around in order to rebuild and improve our water resources infrastructure.  

But any conversation about resiliency planning for the future is moot if we can’t get any of these critical water resources infrastructure projects completed and delivered effectively and efficiently.  The simple fact of the matter is that a project can’t be resilient, unless and until it’s built.

While I do look forward to today’s discussion on resiliency planning, I want to strongly emphasize that a conversation about resiliency and planning for the future means nothing if the Corps is not completing projects currently on the books, including the Corps’ emergency response and repair obligations.  So, I hope at a future hearing we can discuss, in greater detail, ways to make the agency more efficient and effective in completing projects.

We must ensure that the Corps is truly fulfilling its obligations after disasters hit, and to get communities back on their feet, while being good stewards of scarce taxpayers’ dollars.

That being said, I believe that we need to continue to work to reduce project vulnerabilities from future flood and storm events. In doing so, I believe in a few guiding principles.  Non-federal sponsors and the Army Corps need to have equal seats at the table and act as partners – requirements should not be imposed on sponsors without their buy-in.  Resilience is not a one-size-fits-all framework; it must be considerate of the local geography and climate, and the local industry and economy.  What works in California doesn’t work in Arkansas.  And we must be proactive with regards to our aging infrastructure.

Over the past six years, the Committee has passed three WRDAs – authorizing approximately $56 billion worth of projects – that proactively address ecosystem restoration initiatives, flood risk reduction efforts, and hurricane and storm risk reduction projects and policies to help ensure a more resilient Nation.

Similarly, the most recent WRDA, included in the America’s Water Infrastructure Act in 2018 authorized 7 studies for flood risk reduction; authorized and modified several projects for construction of ecosystem restoration, storm damage reduction, and flood risk management projects; required a study on urban flooding and a report on flood and storm mitigation projects in areas where significant risk for future extreme weather events are likely; required a report on North Atlantic coastal resiliency with considerations to current, near, and long-term predicted sea levels and storm strengths; and promoted natural and nature-based features in water resources project development, among many other provisions.

I look forward to hearing the perspectives and suggestions from our witnesses here today as we look to inform our next WRDA bill.

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