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Civil engineers urge creation of National Levee Safety Program
The nation’s water-related infrastructure—dams, levees, inland waterways and harbors—are threatened from decades of underfunding and have jeopardized the ability of the infrastructure to support the nation’s economy and way of life, the president of the nation’s largest civil engineering society told a Senate committee.
Speaking before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Andrew W. Herrmann, P.E., president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), urged the committee to pass a new Water Resources Development Act that would create a new National Levee Safety Program, reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program, restore trust to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and fix the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
“Aging infrastructure for marine ports and inland waterways threatens more than one million jobs,” said Herrmann, citing a new ASCE Failure to Act economic study. “Between now and 2020, investment needs in the nation’s marine ports and inland waterways sector total $30 billion, while planned expenditures are about $14 billion, leaving an investment gap of nearly $16 billion.”
Herrmann stressed the need for Congress to create a National Levee Safety Program, modeled on the National Dam Safety Program. The program would require the federal and state governments to conduct mandatory safety inspections for all levees and compile a national inventory of levees. He pointed out that the reliability of the nation’s 100,000 miles of levees is unknown, that many are more than 50 years old, and the increase in development behind these levees poses a risk to the public health and safety from a failure.
Herrmann requested the committee include the reauthorization of the National Dam Safety Program within the Water Development Resources Act and fund the training, technical assistance, inspection and research program through 2016.
Herrmann urged the committee to increase the waterways user fee from six to nine cents a gallon. He also stressed that any increase includes a provision to index that fee to the consumer price index and recommended that any diesel fuel tax revenues received by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund be “firewalled” to establish discretionary spending limits and reserve the revenues strictly for reconstruction of the system’s aging infrastructure.
He also noted that the busiest U.S. harbors are presently under-maintained, and full channel dimensions at the nation's 59 busiest ports are available less than 35% of the time. The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is also woefully underfunded, he said. While the administration has requested $839 million in fiscal year 2013, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is estimated to receive $1.659 billion in revenues in FY 2013. He urged the committee to require that appropriations for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund should be equal to the revenues received by the Trust Fund and the committee should guarantee that funding is not taken from other Corps programs.
“The nation’s aging infrastructures is critical to both our economy and public safety,” said Herrmann, “Deferring water resource projects creates costs that reverberate throughout our economy, causing exports and GDP to fall, threatening U.S. jobs, causing a drop in personal income and putting those who live behind a dam or levee at increased risk.”