WATER RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT ACT OF 2005 -- (Senate - July 19, 2006)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today in strong support of the Water Resources Development Act. First, let me commend my colleague from across the Mississippi River, Senator Bond, for his efforts in bringing this bill to the floor. I was pleased to support his efforts in the Environment and Public Works Committee and to be an original cosponsor of this bill.
Last year, Senator Bond and I worked together on a letter, signed by 40 of our colleagues, saying it was time for this bill to be considered on the floor of the Senate. When we were told that 40 was not enough, that we needed 60 signatures, we came back and got 81.
That was 7 months ago, and I am pleased that the Senate is now on the verge of passing this bill because this is an important bill both to my State of Illinois and to the entire country. It authorizes and revises the policies and practices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in waterway navigation, including the construction of locks and dams, the construction of levees and wetlands restoration to promote flood control, and other ecosystem and environmental mitigation activities.
For two decades, Congress has enacted revisions and updates to WRDA roughly every 2 years. It is now been 6 years since the last WRDA bill and, in light of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year, this bill is long overdue.
Recently, the American Society of Civil Engineers conducted a report card of the Nation's infrastructure and gave a D-minus to our navigable waterways. More than 50 percent of our lock and dam systems in the United States are functionally obsolete, and that figure will rise to 80 percent in the next 10 years.
Now, if you are not from a farm State, you might not understand why navigable waterways are important to all of us. But a major component of the cost of farm commodities is the cost of transportation. That affects both the price of food that we buy in grocery stores and the price of homegrown fuels that fuel our cars. If U.S. agriculture is to remain competitive in the worldwide market during the 21st century, we need to improve our transportation infrastructure.
Countries such as Brazil and China understand the importance of efficient commerce for their farmers and have made significant investments in improvements. Unfortunately, American farmers still rely on pre-World War II-era infrastructure when transporting their goods to market. When we talk about the responsibility of Congress and the U.S. Government to create jobs and economic development, upgrading these locks and dams is part of that responsibility.
This bill provides $1.8 billion for lock and dam upgrades along these waterways to replace transportation infrastructure almost 70 years old. This is an important provision to Illinois farmers and to everyone around the world who uses the products that we grow in Illinois.
The bill also provides an unprecedented $1.6 billion in Federal funds for ecosystem restoration along the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to improve fish and wildlife habitat as well as land and water management.
Finally, there is a small, but important, provision to authorize continued funding for the electric barriers that prevent the Asian carp from entering into the Great Lakes. The Asian carp is an invasive species with a voracious appetite that, if left unchecked, would disrupt the natural ecosystem in the Great Lakes and crowd out the native fish. Senator Voinovich and I were able to get a temporary fix put into the supplemental appropriations bill, but we need a more permanent guarantee of funding, and WRDA will provide just that.
I will also take a minute to discuss the subject of reforming the Army Corps of Engineers. Serious questions have been raised as to how the Corps develops its calculations and analyses for projects. I believe that subjecting some projects to an independent review process is necessary to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used in the most effective manner.
In closing, I commend Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Jeffords for their leadership, and I thank the EPW Committee staff for their fine efforts in preparing this bill. I am pleased to cosponsor this bill and urge my colleagues to support it as well.
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