Strolling down a beach with sand dunes on one side and the ocean on the other or navigating your motorboat through a harbor probably don’t make you think of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). However, USACE’s many duties include designing and carrying out projects for ecosystem restoration, flood control, and coastal navigation, making it the biggest water resources development and management agency in the federal government.
Before embarking on a water resources development project, USACE must first conduct a feasibility study of the potential project, then submit results and recommendations to the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittees for authorization in a “Chief’s Report.” Once authorized by subcommittees, the project is incorporated into the larger Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). WRDA, which is on a two-year consideration cycle, was most recently reauthorized in 2014; since then, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment has been holding hearings on new Chief’s Reports. Last week, the subcommittee reviewed two new Chief’s Reports and two Post-Authorization Change Reports (projects in need of review due to alterations since authorization).
Two of the reviewed reports had impacts on coastal stability and ecosystem restoration. One Chief’s Report proposed a hurricane damage risk reduction project in southwest coastal Louisiana and included ecosystem restoration, such as reviving marshes and stabilizing shorelines. One of the Post-Authorization Change Reports concentrated on ecosystem restoration in Picayune Strand, Florida as part of a larger comprehensive restoration plan for the Everglades. The project includes plugging (blocking access to open water) 48 miles of canals to restore wetlands, restoring habitat for fish and wildlife, preventing saltwater intrusion in the aquifer, and implementing a Manatee Mitigation Feature that would create an oxbow lake for the federally threatened species to access warm water in the winter. Once completed, the Picayune Strand project will “deliver restoration benefits to 170,000 acres in the western Everglades, including downstream to 10,000 islands, estuaries, and neighboring preserves, which will reap the benefits of the restoration,” Representative Daniel Webster (FL-11) noted when speaking in favor of the project.
While the purpose of the hearing was to review the new reports, some of the pending projects written in Chief’s Reports for the next WRDA bill were also discussed. These include improving flood risk management in California; upgrading navigation in Craig Harbor, Alaska; and restoring the near-shore ecosystem in Washington’s Puget Sound. Representative Rick Larsen (WA-2) expressed his support for the project in his state, calling it “integral to our own state’s Puget Sound action agenda, which includes the recovery and protection of several fish and mammal species.”
Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (PA-9) stressed the importance of including the four reports in the next WRDA bill (H.R. 5303), which was reported out of committee in May. He hopes to move forward on the bill “in the coming days and weeks, or at least months.” The Senate version of WRDA, S. 2848 passed the chamber last week by a resounding 95 to 3 vote.