June 07–More than a third of the way into a 109-page bill, a sentence resides in the Water Resources Development Act that’s important especially to one of its drafters, North Missouri Congressman Sam Graves.
There in Section 137, the proposed law prohibits the Secretary of the Army from “constructing any additional interception-rearing complexes on the Missouri River” until the Corps of Engineers delivers a report to Congress about their broader impacts.
Graves has long felt the Corps directs disproportionate energy to fish and wildlife along the Missouri River as opposed to more human-centered purposes.
“Past efforts to help the pallid sturgeon have led to multiple years of flooding and millions of dollars worth of damage to my constituents,” the Republican lawmaker said on the House floor Wednesday.
“What’s worse is the fact the Corps has spent money year after year on population recovery and it has not helped the pallid sturgeon one bit.”
The U.S. House took up the 2018 version of the Water Resources Development Act on Wednesday. The Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that the bill would cost about $1.1 billion in federal dollars over the next five years and $2.5 billion during the period between 2019 and 2028.
The measure, passed on two-year cycles, most recently in 2014 and 2016, puts forth construction projects for improvement of waterway navigation and flood management, along with assisting in the mitigation of storm damage and water recycling and treatment projects.
In specific directives, this year’s bill approves a study of relocating Alaskan villages due to flooding, expedites a review of regulations surrounding a dike project in Florida and sets out a combined $50 million for eliminating or controlling combined sewer overflows in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas, among many other items.
It also makes specific reference to interception-rearing complexes, Corps of Engineers interventions that pull pallid sturgeon embryos out of navigation channels and into more supportive and food-providing habitat.
The measure requires the Corps to produce a report within 18 months on the benefits of such environmental work when weighed against the potential for human costs.
Graves, whose district includes nearly 400 miles of shoreline along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, sits as a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He called the oversight necessary.
“I think we can all agree that the Corps needs regular examination of projects and policies to hold them accountable,” he said in his floor speech supporting the legislation, noting of the agency’s past mitigation, “They are now required to prove that it actually works.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement that the water bill will help American industries gain a competitive edge.
“It will help maintain our network of inland waterways, which weaves through every state in the country,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “These waterways support $230 billion worth of cargo annually, connecting manufacturers and builders with essential commodities that support their trades and American jobs.”
Many of the speakers Wednesday referred to the backlog of improvement projects involving the nation’s rivers, harbors and sewers.
The 2017 Infrastructure Report Card of the American Society of Civil Engineers gave a grade of “D” to the nation’s inland waterways.
Ken Newton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.