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Public Statements

Introduction of the Hudson-Mohawk River Basin Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. TONKO. Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Hudson-Mohawk River Basin Act of 2012, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to carry out projects and conduct research on water resources in the Hudson-Mohawk River Basin. The bill also establishes a river basin commission to unify the five States and five sub-basins that comprise the Hudson-Mohawk River Basin--the Nation's most densely populated river basin--to manage the vital water resources that bind together the communities, economies, and heritage of the northeast region in an integrated, holistic manner.

For too long, the five sub-basins of this basin have been addressed as independent entities. There is no overarching organization to facilitate coordination and collaboration of the many efforts underway within each of these areas. The landscape, however, operates differently. It functions as a whole. These sub-basins are intimately connected to each other by the waters that course through their streams and tributaries to eventually reach the New York-New Jersey Harbor. Actions taken by individual entities within each sub-basin have impacts that extend beyond local borders. Years of progress in environmental sciences inform us that ecosystem-based management and watershed-level planning will result in the most sustainable outcomes. A river basin commission would provide the forum to facilitate a whole-basin view.

Our country has a long experience of using commissions to bring different jurisdictions together to promote sound management of common resources. In the West, there was early recognition that the seven basin States of the Colorado River needed to work together to ensure equitable access and proper management of the Colorado River. In the East, the Delaware, Susquehanna, and Potomac River Basin Commissions and the Appalachian Regional Commission have guided cooperative efforts of neighboring States to develop and manage important common resources for the benefit of the region. The Hudson-Mohawk River Basin deserves similar attention.

A 2007 study by Canadian authors Dalton, Dalton, and McLean documented the current management regime in the Hudson-Mohawk River Basin. The findings are staggering, including over 2,000 distinct governmental organizations: 12 federal agencies, 67 State agencies, 66 county agencies, and over 1,700 municipal agencies with some jurisdiction over land and water use. There are also over 200 non-profit organizations that focus on issues related to land and water management throughout the Basin. These statistics are indicative of the intense interest that residents and communities in the Basin have in its resources and their management.

The New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Council created in 2006 was an important step forward recognizing the need to manage New York State's coastal areas through ecosystem-based management. The Council plays a vital coordinating role for State agencies and for the many local governments, non-profit groups, businesses, and citizens who depend upon our coastal ecosystems. These systems are influenced by the waters that flow into them and connect them through the Hudson, Mohawk, Passaic, and Raritan Rivers.
The sheer number and diversity of organizations operating within these five basin States present a significant challenge to considering projects and policies that impact the basin in a holistic manner. Despite these hurdles, these many entities have provided tremendous vision, stewardship and creativity for many years. A commission would be in a position to build upon their work and provide the five States of the basin a single forum for working together with the Federal Government to coordinate and encourage cooperation among the many interested parties who have a stake in the basin. Development of a basin-wide plan that places the individual on-going efforts into a whole-basin context would facilitate our ability to apply ecosystem-based management principles in a consistent and efficient manner.

The Mohawk and Upper Hudson sub-basins contribute over half of the flow of water to the lower Hudson River. Water quality in these basins directly impacts quality in the Lower Hudson. Yet, in comparison to the Lower Hudson, these two areas have far less institutional infrastructure and have received far less attention in the ongoing effort to restore the health of the Hudson River and its estuary. The Lower Hudson is a great success story--one that I would like to see repeated for the Mohawk and Upper Hudson. The locally-spawned efforts of dedicated citizens to embrace the Lower Hudson, advocate for its stewardship, and work to improve its floodplain served as the impetus for State government to become more involved. The goal of this legislation is to create a basin commission in order to assist these communities further and to engage the other sub-basins to accelerate development of their water resource programs by imitating successful programs of the Lower Hudson. The organizational infrastructure of the Lower Hudson Sub-basin provides an excellent foundation for building similar organizational strength in the Mohawk and Upper Hudson Sub-basins. Stronger partnerships among communities in the Upper Hudson and Mohawk Sub-basins will enable these regions to redesign and rebuild infrastructure to promote economic development, provide better flood protection, and improve water quality that will complement the efforts of downstream communities and improve conditions not only in the immediate area but also in the Lower Hudson and the Harbor.

The Raritan and Passaic River Sub-basins have, for too long, been viewed as mature industrial corridors rather than as sources of community revitalization and economic opportunity. Through the efforts of the State of New Jersey in partnership with the Federal Government and many dedicated non-profit organizations like the Raritan Headwaters Association and the Passaic River Coalition, water quality of these mighty rivers has improved in recent decades.
However, more effort is needed if these watersheds and the marshes and bays of the New York-New Jersey Harbor are to be restored to ecological health and the New York Bight is to reach its full environmental and economic potential. The excellent work being done by the Environmental Protection Agency's, EPA, New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program and Hudson River Estuary Program--the latter of which was recently expanded to Troy, NY--would be aided greatly by improvements in the water quality of the rivers that eventually flow into the Harbor. EPA and other agencies acknowledge the importance of a holistic approach, and I believe that formation of a whole basin plan will afford us the opportunity to build upon the successes achieved in each of the Sub-basins and to magnify their impacts throughout the Basin. In addition, the comprehensive plan developed by the commission through an inspired, collaborative process with the public would provide the framework for additional Federal resources for the region.

My legislation is modeled on other successful regional programs and river basin commissions. The Governors of each of the five basin States would serve on the commission along with the Secretary of the Interior as a representative of the Federal Government. The Commission is charged with planning and implementing projects and policies that govern the use of water resources in the basin. The Commission would adopt an annual budget including information about individual projects and their costs, along with identifying the appropriate financing. The bill provides the Secretary of the Interior with $25 million per year to fund projects that are consistent with the comprehensive plan and spelled out in more detail in the water resources program.

The Commission's plan, developed in consultation with the member States, Federal agencies, local governments, non-governmental organizations, and all other water users, will tie together the many organizations and interests throughout the basin to tackle large-scale projects. The plan must be developed in collaboration with citizens and local communities. It would provide a unifying vision for the basin and its water resources. And, as I have indicated above, the plan developed through a collaborative process will build a basin-wide organizational structure that will give basin states and communities the framework to compete for additional resources for the region.

The natural and historic resources of the Hudson-Mohawk River Basin are fundamental building blocks that we can use to re-invigorate local communities throughout the Basin. The devastating flood events that occurred in many communities in the Basin last year compel us to re-think our connection to the rivers and tributaries throughout the Basin. Our interconnectedness was visible to the naked eye. We need to better adapt our infrastructure to be more resilient to floods. But more than that, if we integrate improvements in water quality and wildlife habitats into plans for the redevelopment of waterfronts, we will reconnect citizens and communities to the river to yield recreational, community, and economic benefits. As communities are drawn together through the public planning process authorized in the bill, they will be able to work on common priorities and launch a new chapter of prosperity in the history of the Basin.

The Hudson-Mohawk River Basin, together with the Erie Canal, connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. The Hudson-Mohawk River Basin is the cradle of our American democracy. The footprints of the earliest North American civilization and the early development of our modern Nation are replete and scattered throughout this entire region. The waters of the Hudson, Mohawk, Raritan, and Passaic Rivers formed our early transportation networks and provided the food and power that enabled us to forge the Nation and initiate the early westward expansion of the country we know today. Essentially, the water of the Hudson-Mohawk Basin is the ink that wrote our early history. This important common heritage should be revered and celebrated. It has been more than 400 years since the first European settlements were established in the watersheds of the Hudson, Mohawk, Raritan and Passaic Rivers. We should keep faith with those early pioneers and ensure a bright future for our children and generations to follow by working together to maintain the health and beauty of these mighty waterways and promoting economic development compatible with these great environmental assets. I believe the establishment of a Hudson-Mohawk River Basin program with a river basin commission to guide this effort will help us to accomplish these worthy goals.

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