Johnson: Water Is Source of Life — and Jobs

Posted July 22, 2010 at 2:53pm

For decades, the tradition of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has been to consider a water resources development act in every Congress. Through this legislation, Congress authorizes critical navigation, flood damage reduction, environmental restoration and other water-related projects and studies carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Throughout the committee’s history, these water resources development acts have provided the corps, which maintains more than 11,000 miles of channels for commercial navigation, operates locks at 230 sites and maintains 300 deep commercial harbors, 600 shallow coastal and inland harbors and 8,500 miles of levees, with the authority to carry out nationally significant projects. Projects that have improved the economic prosperity of the nation, protected its citizenry from the threat of flooding and coastal storms, and put in place restoration efforts for many of America’s national treasures.

It is a common statement in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that there is no such thing as a Republican levee or a Democratic navigation canal. The projects and studies authorized by the committee benefit the entire nation. Partisanship should have no place in the investments toward our nation’s economic future, as well as the health, safety and well-being of our constituents.

At no time was this more evident than during the consideration of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, which was enacted Nov. 8, 2007, after more than seven years of debate. It was truly a historic event that required an override of President George W. Bush’s veto. This law addressed a backlog of project authorizations, modifications and studies that had accumulated since the law’s previous authorization in 2000.

Earlier this Congress, I joined with the chairman of the committee, Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), and the ranking members of the committee and a subcommittee, Reps. John Mica (R-Fla.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.), to begin the process for the development of a Water Resources Development Act of 2010. A water resources development act is most productive when passed every two years, so it’s only appropriate that Congress develops WRDA 2010 for the 111th Congress.

Allowing Congress to evaluate and modify the Army Corps of Engineers every two years helps us stay updated on new projects in a timely manner. The corps is a crucial entity that is capable of driving economic and environmental success in our country. Currently, the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, which I chair, is evaluating more than 2,200 project requests from Democratic and Republican Members of Congress for consideration in this year’s bill. Flood control, navigation, environmental restoration and other related projects are critically important to all of our constituents, our local economies and the American people’s lives and livelihoods. I urge my colleagues to continue to support the two-year reauthorization of the bill.

Since this bill came into existence, I have personally experienced Hurricanes Rita and Katrina tear trough the Gulf Coast and my home state of Texas — destroying cities, flooding roads, devastating businesses, threatening public health and causing economies to collapse. One such project, funded through this vital legislation and crucial to Dallas, is the plan to improve the Trinity River and its surrounding area.

Enhancements to levees and bridges will control flooding and make the river more navigable. The bill will provide much needed financial relief to other cities that, like Dallas, rely on various water resources for their livelihood.

This Congress, on a bipartisan basis, is moving on an agenda to repair and replace existing projects and to plan for the next generation of roads, bridges, mass transit, airports, water transportation and water-related infrastructure. The process of developing new water resources is ongoing, and although we’ve made great strides, we cannot become complacent with our present accomplishments. Our focus has to stay on ensuring this process continues as there will always be a need to improve our nation’s infrastructure.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) is chairwoman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.