December 13, 2023

Ranking Members Larsen, Napolitano Statements from Hearing on Stakeholder Priorities for WRDA 2024

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA) during today’s hearing titled, “Proposals for a Water Resources Development Act of 2024: Stakeholder Priorities.”

Videos of opening statements from Larsen and Napolitano can be found here and here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Ranking Member Larsen:
Thank you, Chair Rouzer, for holding a second hearing on the development of the Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA.

In the Pacific Northwest and across the country, businesses and communities understand the critical importance of ports, harbors and inland waterways to keeping the goods we rely on moving, protecting homes from flood damage, and preserving our ecosystems.

Since 2014, this Committee has honored its commitment to meet local water resource needs around the country carried out by the Army Corps through regular enactment of bipartisan WRDAs. 

WRDAs support projects that address local water resource challenges to create jobs in construction, and support industries and the businesses that benefit directly from Corps projects. 

Regular, predictable enactment of WRDAs also allows for the implementation of critical and timely policy reforms that improve the function and flexibility of the Corps to respond to local water resources challenges. 

WRDA 2022 is a blueprint for future WRDAs. 

It successfully authorized the construction of 25 new projects covering each facet of the Corps’ missions, as well as almost 100 new feasibility studies for future water resource development projects. 

WRDA 2022 also authorized a historic total of more than $6.5 billion in environmental infrastructure assistance for community driven projects, including $200 million for locally supported water and wastewater infrastructure projects in my home state of Washington. 

These federal, state, and local partnerships are critical to help address the growing water and wastewater infrastructure needs throughout the country. 

WRDA 2024 is our opportunity to build on the bipartisan successes of the last few bills.

We can continue to advance efforts to expand America's navigational capacity and strengthen its supply chains through port, harbor, and inland waterways development.

We can continue to authorize job-creating investments that simultaneously address the water resources challenges facing our communities and support national, regional, and local economies.

We can continue to prepare our communities for the challenges the climate crisis poses as well as extreme weather events.

We can continue to promote equity for all communities by ensuring access to the Corps’ technical and planning expertise, as well as by increasing the coordination between the Corps and Tribal, minority, and disadvantaged communities. 

Beyond the regular enactment of WRDAs, Congress also needs to provide sufficient funding to the Corps for project planning, construction, and operation and maintenance so communities can quickly realize the benefits of water resources improvements.

The $17 billion downpayment made by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a great start, but Congress needs to continue to sustain robust investment in our water infrastructure into the future.

I look forward to the continued partnership with Chairman Graves, Chairman Rouzer, and Ranking Member Napolitano in developing a new bipartisan WRDA 2024. 

With that, I yield back.

Ranking Member Napolitano:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding today’s hearing.

Through biennial enactment of Water Resources Development Acts, this committee is addressing the water related needs of our states and local communities. WRDAs are a shining example of how Congress can efficiently and effectively meet the bipartisan needs of our communities when we decide it is better to work together than apart. 

Again, I look forward to continuing my partnership with you, with Chairman Graves, and with Ranking Member Larsen to get this done. 

Mr. Chairman, each of our communities’ experience unique water resources challenges. We seek to address these challenges through predictable enactment of WRDAs—providing the Corps with the tools necessary to address community needs.

As stressors or local priorities change over time, this Committee has stayed vigilant to ensure that the Corps has the authority and resources necessary to address local needs.

The history of Corps bears this out. The Corps’ civil works responsibility was initially focused primarily on navigation—developing the coastal and inland harbors necessary for the efficient movement of goods to our young nation.

That responsibility was later expanded to incorporate large-scale flood control, in part, due to widespread flooding along the Mississippi River that devastated communities and livelihoods.

More recently, as more and more communities have come to realize the economic, environmental, and public health benefits from restoring their environment, Congress expanded the Corps’ responsibility to include watershed and ecosystem restoration—the benefits that can be seen in the Florida Everglades, Coastal Louisiana, and the Great Lakes.

Mr. Chairman, we have reached another one of those critical decision points—this time related to the Corps’ role in addressing water supply and water conservation needs of the nation.

Communities across the country are now facing similar water supply and water conservation challenges as we have long felt in the West. Cities and towns are coming to recognize the importance of water security for the health of their municipalities, their industry, their agriculture, and their economies.

Over the past decade, I have championed several provisions to enhance the authority and flexibility of the Corps to address local water supply and water conservation needs, while balancing these efforts with the other authorized purposes of Corps’ projects.

Yet, despite these legislative efforts, the Corps (and the Office of Management and Budget) continue to believe that water supply and water conservation are not “primary missions of the Corps” —meaning that these objectives do not get the same attention and budgetary priority as other mission areas. 

Therefore, it is prudent that we rethink the Corps’ role in helping communities facing water insecurity—not to supplant state and local efforts, but to support them.

For months, I have been working with stakeholders and other Members of Congress to elevate the water supply and water conservation mission of the Corps.

My draft proposal, the “Priority for Water Supply and Conservation Act,”—which I ask unanimous consent to include as part of today’s hearing record—would direct the Corps to give equal budgetary and policy priority to water supply and water conservation elements of Corps projects that are authorized by Congress.

To be clear, my proposal would not automatically add water supply or water conservation to existing projects, nor would it put a “finger-on-the-scale” to prioritize water supply or water conservation over other exiting authorized purposes.

Nor would it affect existing national policy that recognizes that states and local interests have primary responsibilities in developing local water supplies.

My proposal simply eliminates any artificial barriers being used by the Corps or OMB to exclude from consideration worthy water supply and conservation projects authorized by Congress that also have substantial state and local support.

Mr. Chairman, as we develop a new WRDA bill for 2024, that legislation should recognize the increased role that the Corps is playing (and will continue to play) in addressing the municipal, industrial, and agricultural water needs of our communities and constituents.

I look forward to working with you on this proposal, and on our continued partnership to develop another successful WRDA this Congress.
Let’s get to work, and I yield back.