WRDA is what the U.S. calls its dysfunctional and arduous method of authorizing projects that affect our rivers. WRDA authorizes studies and projects within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (Corps) primary mission areas: 1) commercial navigation; 2) flood risk management; and 3) aquatic ecosystem restoration. The projects that are authorized, historically through an earmarking process, include locks, dams, levees, beach sand replenishment, river island building and channel dredging. WRDA can also affect, through the Corps permitting process, public and private structures and infrastructure near, over, or under rivers. Mission area #3 gets the fewest resources and the most neglect, according to Kat Logan Smith, Coalition director.
The House's WRRDA, like the Senate's WRDA developed this summer, contains provisions that limit the review of Corps projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. These "streamlining" provisions, Smith reports, will make it much harder to protect wildlife habitat, water quality, wetlands, streams, and communities from harmful Corps projects.
In addressing this issue with members of Congress, Smith suggests the following:
- Strike the so-called "streamlining" provisions in this bill - Section 103 - that gut meaningful environmental reviews.
- Amend the bill to require the Corps to use nonstructural and restoration measures where they can provide an appropriate level of flood damage protection and benefits. Let the river's wetlands and floodplains do their job of sponging flood waters where feasible.
- Amend the bill to require the Corps to periodically evaluate and update operations plans and water control manuals for large-scale Corps projects. As time goes by, situations change and decisions should consider the most current information and new knowledge.
- Amend the bill to require mitigation consistent with recommendations made by the nation's fish and wildlife experts pursuant to the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act. Mitigation for wildlife that fails, is no mitigation at all.
- Amend Section 216 of the bill to eliminate the increased subsidization of the Olmstead Locks and Dam project to 75%. Jacking up taxpayers share would add over $350 million to the taxpayers' current burden for this already overpriced $3.1 billion project. See the Post Dispatch story on this financial black hole that the House is prepared to pitch taxpayers into.