Working Together On Water

2019-08-27T16:29:45+00:00 November 6, 2017|

(Collecting Multibeam Sonar Data by NOAA's National Ocean Service) [CC BY 2.0 (]

(Collecting Multibeam Sonar Data by NOAA’s National Ocean Service) [CC BY 2.0 (]

What It Was

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans held a hearing on three water bills, including the Hydrographic Services Improvement Amendments Act (H.R. 221) and Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act (H.R. 1176).

 Why It Matters

The use of our ocean is increasing, and this hearing focused on two pieces of legislation that would address the backlog of coastal surveys (which could help prevent oil spills, ship collisions, and habitat destruction) and ensure working waterfronts persist through coastal development.

 Key Points

There was bipartisan agreement on three issues: our ocean (especially the Arctic) needs to be mapped, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) requires resources to accomplish this task, and working waterfronts are vital to coastal communities.

Hydrographic Services Improvement Amendments Act (H.R. 221): NOAA is charged with mapping our nation’s coastlines, but due to limited resources (e.g. personnel, funds, vessels, and time) the agency has become severely backlogged. Representative Don Young (AK-At Large), who introduced H.R. 221, testified before the committee that it would take decades to survey half of the 550,000 square nautical miles in our nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone and up to 25 years to complete the 38,000 miles of survey priority areas designated by NOAA.

H.R. 221 would reauthorize the Hydrographic Services Improvements Act 1998 (P.L.105–384) through 2022 and would authorize the collection of data and surveys in the Arctic. Several committee members acknowledged that the lack of surveys in the Arctic pose human and environmental safety concerns, and Mr. David Millar (Government Accounts Director – Americas, Fugro) added that hydrographic surveys can also document fisheries habitat and seabed seeps for oil and gas exploration. Mr. Millar and Dr. Russell Callender (Assistant Administrator, National Ocean Service) agreed that public-private partnerships are needed to both map the Arctic and to address the backlog, and Mr. Millar urged Congress to increase funding to accomplish this task.

Dr. Callender cautioned against administrative limits included in the reauthorization and shared how language requiring a GAO study on the comparison between NOAA and contract survey costs is duplicative, since the agency is already responding to recommendations from a study completed in June.

Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act (H.R. 1176): Coastlines have more value than just residential real estate, Representative Chellie Pingree (ME-1) explained in her opening statement. Her bill, H.R. 1176, would establish a task force at the Department of the Interior to identify and address critical needs associated with working waterfronts. It would also create a grant program for states and regional governments to implement working waterfront plans.

There was witness and bipartisan agreement that states need federal support for coastal programs, but there was concern from members and witnesses about having two federal agencies share jurisdiction. Dr. Callender and The Honorable Paul LePage (Governor, Maine) suggested that the Secretary of Interior should not be involved in the program.


“Were here today talking about bills that have bipartisan support and that is a good thing. I think there is a lot of things we can do together in the subcommittee.” – Ranking Member Jared Huffman (CA-2)

“I don’t think we can keep delaying [mapping in the Arctic] because we are going to have other countries ships [in the Arctic] that if we don’t have it properly mapped could be potentially dangerous to Alaska.” – Representative Don Young (AK-At Large)

“Despite NOAA’s efforts to decrease backlogs, the need in Alaska is daunting and at the current pace it would take decades to address” – Mr. David Millar (Government Accounts Director – Americas, Fugro)

“A vibrant working waterfront leads out into an incredibly interesting and diverse economy that supports a range of livelihoods.” – Dr. Robert Snyder (President, Island Institute)

Next Steps

This was an information gathering hearing. Rep. Pingree, was “thrilled with the feedback” on her bill and confirmed she would use the information to improve the H.R. 117.


Find Out More

Watch the full hearing

Witness Testimonies:

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Want to read more stories like this one? This ran in COL’s weekly newsletter, Ocean News Weekly: Week of November 6, 2017 – Number 389. Read this newsletter in full here, and sign up to receive it in your inbox here.