On January 10, NACo Associate Legislative Director Julie Ufner testified before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to discuss the role of counties in strengthening America’s water infrastructure and county priorities for a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).
WRDA authorizes funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) Civil Works programs, and counties work in collaboration with the Corps to complete vital water infrastructure projects such as constructing and maintaining locks, dams, inland waterways and ports.
NACo provided three county priorities for a WRDA reauthorization as Congress works to restore a regular two-year cycle for WRDA: fix challenges within the Section 404 permitting program; address funding needs for WRDA projects; and provide a framework for more effective consultation and collaboration between the Corps and state and local governments.
In developing a new WRDA bill, Congress can help local communities by streamlining the current Section 404 permit process to allow counties to conduct routine flood control and ditch maintenance and extend the length of these permits from five to ten years. Congress must also continue to focus on levee safety, which is critical to public safety in flood-prone communities. Our nation’s dams also are in dire need of repair, and we urge Congress to continue their commitment to these structures.
NACo’s testimony also requested Congress increase overall funding levels for the Corps to address the problem of severely limited funding for water resource projects, which has particularly harmed small and rural counties, and to avoid the shifting of the federal share of water resource projects onto the backs of local taxpayers. Most state and local governments simply do not have the financial resources to assume the federal share.
Finally, NACo called on Congress to establish a better process in WRDA by which the Corps can engage with state and local partners. For example, the Corps does not currently have an Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs to facilitate a relationship between the agency, counties and states and other stakeholders, hindering our ability to reach our mutual goals.
During the testimony, NACo described the critical role counties play in building and maintaining America’s water infrastructure, including the crucial role WRDA plays when communities respond to natural disasters, as well as many of the challenges counties face under the current WRDA bill. Ufner concluded her testimony by saying, “Simply put, WRDA is a partnership that works, and together, we can work to make it stronger.”
NACo will continue working with Congress to develop a WRDA bill that meets the needs of communities across the country.
To watch the full hearing, click here.