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Chairs DeFazio, Napolitano Statements from Hearing on Promoting Resiliency Through WRDA 2020 | The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

November 19, 2019

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA) during today’s hearing titled: “Concepts for the Next Water Resources Development Act: Promoting Resiliency of our Nation’s Water Resources Infrastructure.”

Chair DeFazio:

Today’s hearing deals with the resiliency of our water infrastructure. Want to see the impacts of climate change?  Look no further than water. You can see this through sea level rise, glacier melt, and extreme weather events through droughts, hurricanes, and record rainfall. The three largest rainfall events on record in the U.S. have occurred in the last three years. The Lower Mississippi River set the record for longest known flood from December 2018 to August 2019. We’ve dealt with hurricanes Katrina, Florence, Matthew, Irma, and Maria at a staggering pace. 

Even if you don’t believe that this is a result of climate change, we can at least agree that these extreme hydrologic events are no longer the exception and are now becoming the norm. Let’s look at it from a fiscal perspective: more than 75% of declared Federal disasters are related to floods, and annual flood losses average almost $8 billion with over 90 fatalities per year. In 2019 alone, we have had 10 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. This includes 3 flooding events, 5 severe storm events, and 2 tropical cyclone events.

The Corps plays a crucial role in managing for these risks as the largest water manager in the Nation.  Investing in resiliency not only helps to protect our communities but also helps reduce future spending on disasters. We need to better prepare our communities to understand the risks associated with extreme weather events. How we work with academia through research and innovation is also key.

It is imperative that we support initiatives that work toward reducing carbon emissions, combating rising sea levels, investing in renewable energy, and building resilient infrastructure. I am considering ways to do this across all areas of our jurisdiction. Whether its reducing carbon emissions across all modes of transportation or reducing greenhouse gas emissions from pipelines and wastewater systems – we must do more.

As this committee discusses moving forward on a Water Resources Development Act in the next year, ensuring that our communities are dealing with and managing risk associated with extreme hydrologic events is important and must be part of the discussion. 

Thank you.

Chair DeFazio remarks as delivered can be found here.

Chair Napolitano:

The Corps has defined resiliency as “a holistic approach to addressing threats and uncertainty from acute hazards.” These hazards include more frequent and stronger natural disasters, man-made threats, changing conditions from population shifts, and climate change.

The Corps is the largest water manager in the nation; so it is important for us to understand how the Corps manages its inventory of projects in light of a changing climate, including how it builds resiliency into its decision making. This will be a critical discussion in the formulation of a new water resources development act.

I am already having this discussion of aging infrastructure, changing hydrologic conditions, and how we can better respond to these changes in my district in Southern California. 

We have several Corps facilities, including the Whittier Narrows Dam.  It is part of the Los Angeles County Drainage Area flood control system, which collects runoff from the upstream watershed of the San Gabriel River, and controls releases downstream. 

Like many Corps facilities, it is over 50 years old- 62 to be exact.  It is classified by the Corps as a Dam Safety Action Classification-1- the highest classification, because of the potential risks to downstream populations should it fail.  I am working closely with the Corps to ensure that the Dam Safety work is started and completed at Whittier Narrows to protect our communities from the threats of today, and the future threats of climate change.

We are also pushing for this work for another important reason, the ability to utilize Whittier Narrows, and other water infrastructure, like Prado Dam, to meet the future needs in the community. We cannot do this if they are falling apart.

In Southern California, over half of our water supply is imported from the Bay Delta or the Colorado River.  We experience frequent droughts. We want to be able to utilize existing infrastructure and operate them in a way that meets existing authorized purposes, but also considers other needs, like groundwater recharge and water supply. 

An example of this is with Prado Dam as a potential pilot project for the Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations.  This project helped to conserve 12,000 acre-feet of water at Lake Mendicino earlier this year by relying on better forecasting to help guide operations. 

I recognize that what resiliency means for California will be different than what it means for the Midwest, or the Eastern seaboard.  However, because Corps projects have a real impact on the everyday lives and livelihoods of American families, and on our local, regional, and national economy, it is important that Corps considers resiliency as part of its mission every day. 

Thank you to our witnesses for being here today. I look forward to hearing your testimony.

Chair Napolitano’s remarks as delivered can be found here.

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