America’s Water Resources Infrastructure: Approaches to Enhanced Project Delivery
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
Summary of Subject Matter
Chairman Garret Graves (R-LA)
January 18, 2018
The United States is a maritime nation. Much of our nation’s success, and future successes, are dependent on our ports and waterways system. With 41 states being served by ports and waterways, and 25,000 miles of inland and intracoastal waterways, this system is integrally tied to the economic development and global competitiveness of our nation.
But this system is aging. The average age of our locks is over 60 years old, well beyond their intended design life. The result is numerous delays that impact the half a billion tons of cargo that flow on these waters every year. Our ports, through which 99 percent of overseas trade passes, struggle to maintain their navigation channels at their fully authorized depths, let alone a depth to allow for even bigger ships that are increasingly the global norm.
It is not just our navigation system that needs to be upgraded, but also our levees and dam systems, which are on average over 50 years old. This vast network of levees and dams is critical to protecting millions of people in cities and towns across the Nation, as well as providing essential benefits such as water supply, irrigation, and hydropower.
Central to all of these issues is the Army Corps of Engineers. Right now, there is a backlog of 1,000 projects totaling approximately $96 billion in need. With an annual Corps budget of about $6 billion, the simple reality is that we will likely never catch up. Therefore it is important that we examine process improvements to drive efficient project delivery.
The Corp’s inability to complete projects, or even approve permits in a timely fashion has become a major source of frustration for non-federal stakeholders across the Nation.
According to the National Association of Environmental Professionals “Annual NEPA Report for 2015,” the Corps takes, on average, over 6 years to complete an Environmental Impact Statement. The Council on Environmental Quality estimates that environmental permitting delivery times take, on average, about 4.7 years.
The status quo is simply not good enough.
There are, however, some steps in the right direction. In June of last year, Mr. James C. Dalton, the Director of Civil Works for the Army Corps, who is here with us today, released a memo entitled “Further Advancing Project Delivery Efficiency and Effectiveness of USACE Civil Works.”
There are many good operational improvements in that memo that reduce redundancies and delegate decision making authorities to appropriate levels. I look forward to hearing more about these efforts and making sure these reforms are being diligently implemented.
Additionally, WRRDA 2014 and WRDA 2016 set frameworks for alternative finance and delivery tools for the Corps to take advantage of. Many of these tools have yet to be implemented.
In the end, we have a lot of work to do in order to ensure that our water resources system can sustain the competitiveness of the American economy and protect our national security.I look forward to hearing thoughts and specific recommendations from our witnesses today on how we can modernize our approach to better deliver 21st century water infrastructure in a more prompt and efficient manner. Your input today will help the Committee develop our next WRDA legislation for this year.