The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure held the hearing “America’s Water Infrastructure Needs and Challenges: Federal Panel” on Jan. 16, at which ranking member Sen. Tom Carper gave the opening statement.

“Chairman Barrasso, today, as you have said, we are holding part two of our initial Water Resources Development Act oversight hearings. These hearings are an essential step in preparing the next Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, before the most recent authorization expires in December. WRDA is yet another one of those funny-sounding acronyms that we use all too often in Washington, but while it may sound funny, the truth is, what’s incorporated into a WRDA bill has a huge effect on the daily lives of many Americans,” said Carper.

“For instance, hearing members of Congress, perhaps like those of us up here today, talk about critical dredging projects may sound boring, but if a ship carrying fruit, vegetables, meat or seafood into our country’s ports can’t reach its destination, that means prices at the grocery store may rise. And if prices at the grocery store rise, then families who may already be struggling to put food on their tables will have to figure out how to stretch their budgets even further. For the most vulnerable among us, that ship being able to reach its port isn’t just a policy decision here in Washington, D.C. It could be the difference between a hungry child or a healthy one,” said Carper.

“Last week, we discussed how more than 99 percent of U.S. overseas trade volume moves through coastal channels that the Army Corps of Engineers maintains. Think about that. More than 99 percent. 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. But the Corps does more than just conduct navigation projects. The agency is also involved in flood risk management and environmental restoration. Navigation, however, makes up the most significant portion of the Corps’ authorized work. Unless the country experiences a flood event, navigation work is the most visible activity in the Corps’ portfolio on a day-to-day basis,” said Carper.

“Unfortunately, as we all know, federal funding for new project construction and major rehabilitation has steadily declined. Corps’ activities have shifted to operations, maintenance and the rehabilitation of existing infrastructure, while 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. Our waterways are the backbone of our economy, and the Corps is an often invisible agency keeping much of it together with limited resources. New estimates my staff received after last week’s hearing reveal that the Corps’ overall construction backlog is in the neighborhood of $96 billion worth of projects. If provided, this money would only address current needs. It doesn’t include any of the funds needed for future investment,” said Carper.

“According to the American Association of Port Authorities, in port infrastructure alone, our country is expected to need over $65 billion in investment over the next decade to ensure a nurturing environment for U.S. job creation and economic growth. As we heard last week, the American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card tells an even more unsettling story with dams, levees and inland waterways receiving a grade of D. Their report card estimates that $162 billion of investment is needed in these types of infrastructure. As I said last week, with an annual budget that hovers around $4.6 billion, the Corps has a seemingly impossible math problem to overcome,” said Carper.

“This committee has worked hard on a bipartisan basis in recent years to return to a practice of developing WRDA bills in a timely manner. I am encouraged that we will continue that tradition in 2018 so that the ports, channels, waterways and flood management initiatives on which so many states, businesses and Americans depend can keep moving ever more goods and people without interruption. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about how they plan to overcome this more than $100 billion dollar problem, and then investing in our future. We must work in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion with the administration to really address these concerns and build consensus on a path forward in a smart, cost-efficient way. Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing,” said Carper.