WATER RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - May 15, 2007)
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, to make sure everybody understands, this is not an amendment that eliminates this project. As I complimented the Senator from California and the Senator from Oklahoma yesterday, the idea behind this amendment is to make priorities.
What do we know? We know the Corps has a $58 billion backlog right now. That is 27 1/2 years of work at the way the Corps is funded now. All this amendment says is, if you are in a family and you need a new roof, and you want to build a swimming pool, probably most American families are going to put the roof on before they build the swimming pool.
Sacramento has 1.8 million people. It is the largest city in this country at risk for flood damage. The canals and levees up there need to be reworked. All this amendment says is before we restore beaches--by the way, let me give a little background. The last time there was any flood damage at Imperial Beach was 1988. The total damage was $500,000 in 1988.
What we do know is, when you restore the sand, one winter storm will wipe it all out. That is why this is a 50-year project. This is planned to restore sand after sand after sand after sand for the next 50 years. It may be the right thing to do, but in terms of making a choice about priorities, wouldn't we think that before we restore sand that is going to be washed away by the next winter storm, maybe we ought to ensure ourselves that the people in Sacramento are safe. So this does not eliminate this project.
I also go back to the history on this project. What is the Corps' No. 1 way of fixing this project? It is not to continue to pump sand onto the beach. It is to have an extended growing out until the beach redevelops and replenishes itself, which was proposed and never finalized before they completed the environmental impact statement on it. That is the way to restore the sand to the beach in a natural way.
So what we have is we are going to take a low-priority item--very high-priority item for some of the people of Imperial Beach, CA, not all of them--we were submitted a letter yesterday by a large group of people who oppose this--and we are going to say that is as important in terms of authorization as fixing the levee system in Sacramento. It is not.
All this amendment says is before you start spending money on restoring sand that is going to be washed away by the next winter storm, you ought to fix the levees where you have 1.8 million people at real risk for flood. It is the largest city in the United States at risk. It has a greater risk of flood than New Orleans. It has an 85-year risk compared to a 250-year risk in New Orleans.
By this amendment, we are not saying do not do this. We are saying, let's add some priorities. Let's fix what is wrong in a major levee system first. Let's have, in this bill, that we are going to choose a priority rather than to send all this to the Corps, which is 27 years behind right now on their projects--will be another 7 1/2 to 8 years after this bill passes--and say, on the way of priorities, the priority that ought to go first is fixing the levee system in Sacramento. It is not to degrade that this is not needed. I am not saying it is not needed. I am saying, with limited funds, we ought to have a priority.
Many people will argue they will make that decision at the Appropriations Committee. The authorizing bill right now is on the floor. I support many of the projects in this bill. But I think a case can be made, and the American people would demand, we cannot quit ducking priorities. It is easy to say to do everything, as the Senator from California said yesterday. The only problem with that is, we cannot do everything. We cannot do everything, so we have to make a choice. We ought to do those things that will protect the most people, solve the biggest problems first, and then work to the smaller problems.
In 1988 was the last time we ever had any storm damage at Imperial Beach, CA. It was in the midst of storm damage that was less than $500,000. We are going to be talking about in excess of $20 million for this beach at the same time we have levees that need to be reworked and reaffirmed in Sacramento.
This amendment is common sense. Let's do what is most important first, and when we have done that, then go do this. Let's do not do them both at the same time, quite frankly, because it will never happen at the same time, because we only have $2 billion a year for the Corps now and there are hundreds of projects in this country that should be done before this project.
With that, Mr. President, I yield back the remainder of my time.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I am not going after the project. The project stays. I think the Senator from California misses the point. This beach had restoration done by the city last year. It washed away. The sand they put up there will wash away. It is a temporary fix to a long-term program. That is why they have a 50-year authorization for restoring this beach, because it is going to continue to wash away because they are not fixing it in the way the Corps originally recommended it be fixed.
It is not about picking on this project. It is about, again, shouldn't we have priorities? Isn't it more important to fix Sacramento and the levee system there than this particular project, which has been repaired of late by the city with their own funds? I am not saying we should eliminate it; I am saying we should not do this until we have done the other things that are higher priority on the Corps' list, which No. 1 in my mind, besides what we need to do in Louisiana, is to restore the levee system in Sacramento.
With that, Mr. President, I yield back.