Viewpoints: Water projects bill shows what bipartisan cooperation can produce

Published in The Sacramento Bee on June 11, 2014

Viewpoints: Water projects bill shows what bipartisan cooperation can produce

By Barbara Boxer and Doris Matsui

 Congress came together last month to pass the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 with overwhelming bipartisan support in both houses. The Senate approved it 91-7, and the House vote was 412-4; the entire California delegation supported it. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama signed the act.

Its passage demonstrates the broad support for significant investment in America’s flood protection systems and other water projects. It makes important investments and reforms related to our nation’s ports and waterways, which moved more than 2.3 billion tons of goods in 2012. It provides assistance to communities to become more resilient to extreme weather and natural disasters. And it restores vital ecosystems and provides a boost to our economy by creating jobs.

The act also authorizes flood protection and other projects that are critical to ensuring the safety of millions of Americans. This is especially critical for Sacramento, because our city faces some of the nation’s most severe flood risk. The act includes many of Sacramento’s flood protection priorities, including authorization to finish the Natomas Levee Improvement Project.

The Natomas project is a prime example of why passing this bill was so important. If the Natomas levees were to fail, our region would be devastated. Approximately 100,000 people could risk losing their homes; schools, businesses and Interstates 80 and 5 would close; and the Sacramento International Airport would be underwater.

Local and state governments have paid their share of the project to the tune of more than $350 million. The project has been fully studied and has been awarded a chief’s report by the Army Corps of Engineers, signifying that the project is fully vetted and of critical importance to public safety.

Also included in the act is language addressing the corps’ vegetation on levees policy. Our levees are our first line of defense, so we need to use the best science and smartest funding decisions to make them as reliable as possible. This is a decision that can best be made by stakeholders familiar with our rivers. The act calls for regional variances to the national vegetation policy. This would allow thousands of trees to potentially remain on our levees and provide habitat for a number of threatened species, while also maintaining stringent public safety standards.

Our water resources legislation includes language encouraging state and local initiatives that accelerate flood protection projects by allowing federal crediting for work accomplished by local agencies.

In 2006, California voters passed Proposition 1E, which authorized more than $4 billion in bonds for urgent flood protection projects. Sacramento residents, and other communities, have followed suit by providing a local share of these projects.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act is an essential step in moving these projects forward, including critical projects in West Sacramento and across the Central Valley.

There is no question that this bipartisan congressional action represents a win for Sacramento, California and the nation. It puts our nation’s water resources and flood protection policy on the right track. People in political parties compromised to strengthen our nation’s infrastructure, grow our economy and protect the environment. That represents significant progress.

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California is chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and was chairwoman of the Senate-House conference committee for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. Rep. Doris Matsui of Sacramento serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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