Army Corps of Engineers Reform Critical in Upcoming WRDA

Much of our nation’s wildlife is dependent on critical aquatic habitat, which includes rivers, streams, bays, estuaries, wetlands and coastlines

04-16-2002 // NWF Media Team

The next Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) could be a critical tool to redirect the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to become a force for economically-sound environmental restoration that protects people and wildlife, according to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) testimony before the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

"Americans have completely lost confidence in the Army Corps of Engineers' ability to create economically and environmentally sound projects that make sense for people and wildlife," said David R. Conrad, NWF's Water Resources specialist. "The upcoming Water Resources Development Act presents Congress with an opportunity to provide the Corps greater accountability and a clear direction in meeting the nation's water resource needs using sound science and economics."

Key reforms that must be part of any future WRDA include:

* Subject Corps projects to independent review and greater public scrutiny.
Establishing a process for independent review of projects and opening up the planning process to the public would help restore confidence in the Corps.

* Make ecosystem restoration the focus for the Corps and implement modern water resource management principles and practices.
A 21st Century Corps of Engineers must meet 21st Century needs and values regarding ecosystem protection and current water resource management principles to ensure that all Corps projects make economic and environmental sense.

* Implement meaningful mitigation for environmental damage.
The Corps will often complete a project without offsetting the environmental damage of the project through mitigation, such as creating new wildlife habitat. The Corps must complete the mitigation required by the project authorization in the time allotted.

* Stop the "Race to the Bottom" among ports and harbors competing for the same deep draft service.
The Corps must conduct comprehensive coordinated planning to look regionally at shipping needs and the economic and environmental cumulative impacts of deepening ports and harbors.

* Pull the plug on projects that no longer make sense.
Even if Congress does not authorize any more new Corps projects, eliminating the Corps' current backlog would cost more than $50 billion and take more than 30-40 years. The Corps should conduct an extensive review to reduce the backlog and Congress should speed up the existing automatic deauthorization process to eliminate bad projects.

* Reduce the federal taxpayers' burden for sand pumping activities.
Pumping sand on beaches that is literally washed away to sea is consuming increasing amounts of taxpayer dollars and poses serious long-term ecological risks to aquatic wildlife and their habitat. Congress should reduce the federal government's burden for these projects and resist authorizing new projects until the ecological risks are better understood.

"If Congress gets serious about protecting people rather than pork in the next WRDA, we'll have a firm foundation for changing the way the Corps does business and make its projects protect local communities and the environment," concluded Conrad.

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