EPW Hearing Statement: America’s Water Infrastructure Needs and Challenges

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure held the hearing, “America’s Water Infrastructure Needs and Challenges.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Chairman Barrasso, before we begin, I just want to thank you for holding this oversight hearing on America’s water infrastructure needs to kick off discussions on the next Water Resources Development Act.  This is an extremely important authorization, given we do these every two years and the most recent authorization expires in December.  As you know, coastal issues are extremely important to Delaware – the lowest lying state in the country – and, as a result, the Water Resources bill is critical to our state’s economy. 

“But Delaware’s economic reliance on the Corps’ work is not unique. Over 99 percent of U.S. overseas trade volume moves through coastal channels that the Corps maintains. Additionally, the Corps’ inland waterways and locks form a freight network – think of it as a ‘water highway’ – connecting waterways and ports and providing direct access to international markets. They also serve as critical infrastructure for the U.S. military. 

“In addition to navigation, the Corps of Engineers also works to reduce risk to human safety and property damage from flooding. Flooding alone currently costs the United States billions of dollars annually. As the 2017 hurricane season illustrated, our nation needs to be a resilient one that is ready for the next storm or flood or drought event because it is coming.  In fact, just this week, NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced that, in 2017, the total costs for extreme weather and climate events exceeded $300 billion – a new annual record in the U.S. – so it is clearly not a matter of ‘if’ the next extreme weather event is coming – it is a matter of ‘when.’

“Together, the Corps’ navigation and flood risk management activities account for more than 70 percent of the agency’s annual civil works appropriations. But the Corps has – or shares – jurisdiction over many other critical civil works programs as well, including environmental stewardship, hydropower, recreation, emergency management and water supply.

“Unfortunately, in the mid-1980s, federal funding for new project construction and major rehabilitation began to steadily decline. With this trend, the Corps’ actions have shifted to operations, maintenance and the rehabilitation of existing infrastructure, and a backlog of deferred maintenance has continued to grow ever since.  As a result, much of the Corps’ infrastructure is now exceeding its useful life span. About $66 billion in investment in port-related infrastructure is needed over the next decade to ensure U.S. job creation and economic growth. 

“As this graphic shows, investment in our freight network – which is an interconnected network of ships, barges, trucks and trains – is essential to the safe and efficient movement of goods, both into and out of the United States. This freight network serves as the backbone of our economy.

“With respect to flood damage risks, the American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card tells an unsettling story with dams, levees and inland waterways grading out at a D, representing an overall cumulative investment backlog of nearly $140 billion and an authorized, but unconstructed, portfolio of $60 billion. The Corps faces a rather sizable math problem as they try to service that roughly $200 billion requirement – and more – with an annual budget that hovers around $4.6 billion. 

“Clearly, we have a good deal of important work to do. We need to work in a bipartisan fashion if we are to really address these concerns and build consensus on a path forward in a smart, cost-efficient way, leveraging both ‘green’ as well as traditional ‘gray’ infrastructure solutions.  Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.”