Marine Log

February 16, 2006

Senators seek water resources reform

U.S. Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and John McCain (R-AZ) are looking to put the Army Corps of Engineers on a low pork diet. They have introduced the Water Resources Planning and Modernization Act of 2006 to "update and strengthen" the Corps.

The bipartisan bill, say the senators, would ensure that the Corps protects both taxpayer dollars and the environment by restoring the Water Resources Council to help Congress prioritize water resources projects and identify vulnerabilities that could be exposed by future natural disasters.

The two senators are introducing their bill after an Administration budget request for 2007 that includes a record $4.733 billion for civil works, including $385 million for "high-performing" inland navigation projects.

"This bill will help restore credibility to a federal agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, which provides valuable services but has also been a vehicle for a lot of congressional pork," Feingold said. "Modernizing how the Corps plans, designs and carries out projects will ensure more responsible use of taxpayer dollars while also protecting our natural resources."

"It is time for us to take a new approach to how the Army Corps does business. With lessons learned from Katrina, we can and must shepherd in a new era within the Army Corps that prioritizes critical projects and allows the American taxpayers to know that their money is being spent in an effective and efficient manner," McCain said.

The bill restores the Water Resources Council (established in 1965) and charges it with providing Congress a prioritized list of all authorized water resource projects within one year of enactment and every two years thereafter. This process is intended to give Congress the tools to more wisely invest limited resources.

To ensure that Corps water resources projects are sound, the bill requires independent review of those projects estimated to cost over $25 million, projects requested by a governor of an affected state, projects that the head of a federal agency has determined may have a significant adverse impact, or projects that the Secretary of the Army has found to be controversial.

The Water Resources Council is also charged with identifying and reporting to Congress on the nation's vulnerability to flood and related storm damage, including the risk to human life, and recommendations on improving the nation's various flood damage reduction programs.

To better protect natural systems that provide important services, the bill requires that Corps water resources projects meet the same mitigation standard that is required of everyone else under the Clean Water Act. Where states have adopted stronger mitigation standards, the Corps must meet those standards.

To improve the process by which the Army Corps of Engineers analyzes water projects, the bill requires that the Water Resources Council work in coordination with the National Academy of Sciences to propose periodic revisions to the Corps' planning principles and guidelines, regulations, and circulars.

The principles and guidelines, which bind the Army Corps of Engineers, have not been updated since 1983.