Obama Administration Takes Important Steps Toward Modernizing Federal Water Project Planning
New Rules Recognize Nature's Role in Protecting Our Communities from Global Warming ImpactsDecember 3rd, 2009
David Conrad, sr. resource specialist, National Wildlife Federation, 202-365-0565 cell, [email protected]
Andrew Fahlund, vice president of conservation, American Rivers, (202) 487-6659 cell, [email protected]
Washington, DC – The draft water resources planning guidance released today by the Council on Environmental Quality represents a vital first step in modernizing our nation’s water policies to protect communities from global warming impacts and to plan for the nation’s water needs in the 21st century.
“In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Congress recognized it was time to fundamentally change the way flood control, navigation and other water projects are planned and built,” said David Conrad, senior resource specialist, National Wildlife Federation. “Today, the Obama Administration has taken a vital step toward recognizing the critical importance of our nation’s rivers, coasts, and wetlands — and setting the stage for the fundamental changes needed to protect these vital resources.”
“For too long, our nation’s water resources have been steered by outdated guidelines that favored development over all else,” said Andrew Fahlund, vice president of Conservation for American Rivers, “With clear support from Congress, the Obama Administration is beginning to ensure those rules prioritize 21st century approaches to water management that work with nature rather than against it. These Principles and Guidelines should provide a clear and mandatory direction to federal agencies that healthy rivers, wetlands, and floodplains are at the heart of safe and economically sustainable communities. With the looming threat of greater and more intense storms due to global warming, this cannot happen at a more important time. We greatly appreciate the Administration’s efforts to this point.”
The draft guidance recognizes that healthy waters are vital to human health and safety and for our natural environment, and requires federal agencies to account for these values in water resources planning. Healthy streams, wetlands and coasts provide clean and abundant supplies of water, protect communities by reducing flood and storm damages, and provide essential habitat for fish and wildlife. The draft also begins to set out clear direction to agencies that they must confront the profound impact of climate change on water resource planning and management. Giving clear and unequivocal direction to these agencies to confront this reality is critical for sustainable economic development, public safety, and environmental protection.
While American Rivers and National Wildlife Federation are appreciative of the effort to date, we wish to see the draft go further to implement the reforms mandated by Congress. They urge the Administration to establish clear directives that will ensure that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies protect the natural resources needed to defend America from the floods, droughts, storms, and increasing sea levels fueled by climate change. For too long, the Corps in particular has allowed narrow development interests to run roughshod over our natural resources and the broader public interest, leading to devastating environmental losses, unacceptable risks to public safety, and enormous waste of taxpayer dollars. Just two weeks ago, a U.S. District Judge ruled that the Corps’ “gross negligence” in maintaining a navigation channel led to the breeching of levees in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
A fundamentally new approach to planning is needed to serve the nation’s 21st Century water resources needs. The Administration should seize this opportunity and establish a modern national water policy that requires the Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies to protect and restore our nation’s vital rivers, coasts, and wetlands. The new guidance should do this by establishing clear directives, such as requiring federal agencies to utilize non-structural and restoration approaches whenever practicable.