Congress passes water bill crucial to improving health of America's Great Waters
UPDATED on May 22, 2014: Water bill (WRRDA) passed the U.S. House on May 20 (412-4) and U.S. Senate on May 22 (91-7). The approved WRRDA bill will be sent to President Obama for his signature.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, after seven years of legislative wrangling, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) is pleased to see Congress working together to finalize the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), or the water bill, which includes provisions that are important for improving the health of America’s Great Waters and national parks. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a key partner in many of the places where NPCA works to protect and enhance America’s national parks including Everglades restoration in Florida, combating Asian carp threats in Minnesota and throughout the Midwest, and protection and recovery from severe weather like Superstorm Sandy in New York. Next, both Houses of Congress must approve the Conference Report in order to send it to President Obama to be signed into law.
“We are pleased to see crucial national park projects and commitments to improve the waterways around these amazing landscapes,” said Theresa Pierno, Chief Operating Officer of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The House and Senate committee leadership have expressed a desire to return to a two-year cycle for authorizing WRRDA, recognizing that many shovel-ready projects, such as the C-43 Reservoir to benefit the Everglades, have been on hold for years, awaiting authorizations so construction can begin and environmental and economic benefits can be realized.”
Through WRRDA, Congress authorizes key projects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including developing, maintaining and restoring the nation’s vital waterway infrastructure, which includes essential restoration projects in America’s national parks. Previously, WRRDA bills were passed every two years, however Congress has taken action only once since 2000.
Critical WRRDA national park projects include:
Everglades restoration: WRRDA will authorize four Everglades restoration projects, including the C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir, the C-111 Spreader Canal, the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands, and the Broward Water Preserve Areas. These projects will help recover more natural, system-wide patterns of water, in terms of quantity, quality, timing and distribution, for the greater Everglades ecosystem and will benefit both Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. Unfortunately, the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), an innovative pilot project that will deliver new sources of clean water to the Everglades National Park, still awaits its finalized planning report from the Army Corps, and will not be authorized at this time.
Asian carp: WRRDA will provide the tools needed to fight against invasive Asian carp in Minnesota’s waterways, including the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The bill contains language that will require the closure of the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock in Minneapolis within one year of the bill’s passage, in order to help stop the spread of invasive carp further northward and effectively protect thousands of miles of rivers and lakes upstream. The bill will also establish a federal multi-agency task force led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will coordinate federal efforts to combat the threat of Asian carp in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River Basins.
Superstorm Sandy: To aid in recovery efforts in New York-New Jersey Harbor, WRRDA contains language that will require the Army Corps to advance project recommendations from a two-year comprehensive study, which was authorized in the Hurricane Sandy relief bill. Once implemented, these projects will provide coastal protection and benefits to communities and national parks in areas most impacted by Superstorm Sandy, including Gateway National Recreation Area.
Benefits to River Basin Commissions: WRRDA contains language that would direct the federal government to fulfill its obligated funding towards river basin commissions that oversee the Delaware, Potomac, and Susquehanna Rivers – an obligation that has been met only once in the last 17 years. River basin commissions play an important role in the protection of many national parks, including the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, C&O Canal National Historical Park, and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake and Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trails. If federal funding is not restored, the Delaware River Basin Commission has indicated it will be forced to lay off 25 percent of all staff, including geologists, hydrologists, engineers, and resource managers.
“Congress must get back to the two-year WRRDA authorization cycle so that critical shovel-ready projects that bring jobs and restoration benefits to our national parks and the surrounding communities can move forward,” said Pierno. “The two-year cycle is especially important to ensure that the federal government continues its commitment to restoring America’s Everglades and authorizes projects to send water back to Everglades National Park. The longer we await to begin implementation of these important projects, the worse things get, and the more costly they become to address.”
About National Parks Conservation Association
Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than one million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.