SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOCRECENT FLOODING IN CALIFORNIA
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 19, 1997
U.S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment,
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:00 a.m. in room 2167, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Sherwood L. Boehlert (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. BOEHLERT. I think we're right on time, 10:00, and we're going to open up the hearing on a formal basis.
Welcome to the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee. Today we meet to receive testimony on the New Year's floods in California and the many environmental and emergency policy issues left in their wake. We'll also learn about the more recent and devastating floods in States along the Ohio River.
Both of these natural disasters carry price tags in the billions of dollars. As we focus on flood policy, it is important to remember that this is an issue that is important to every region of the country.
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In fact, roughly a year ago my own Congressional District in upstate New York experienced tens of millions of dollars in damage. Eight of my nine counties were declared disaster areas as a result of the heavy rains and rapid snow melt.
One of this subcommittee's most vital missions is to oversee the activities of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. When disaster strikes, the Nation turns to FEMA and the Corps, probably more than any other Federal agencies. Using their authorities under the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act and various water resources laws, these two agencies save lives, protect property, and restore hope. Let me tell you something: they do a very good job. That is based on personal experience.
Today we are honored to have James Lee Witt, the director of FEMA. Mr. Witt has done an outstanding job during his tenure at FEMA. He has improved our Nation's disaster response programs and he has also increased emphasis on prevention and hazard mitigationthemes all of us need to emphasize over and over again.
For those of you who are new members of this committee, I want you to know that I am an unabashed member of the James Lee Witt Fan Club, and if anyone would like to sign on for membership see me after the hearing.
We're also pleased Major General Russell Fuhrman, the Director of Civil Works, is able to join us. The Nation expects a lot out of the Corps. They must control floods and protect the human environment. At the same time, they must protect and respect the natural environment following various mandates under our Nation's environmental laws. Sometimes that's not easy.
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This committee has grappled and will continue to grapple with these difficult issues. We hope the Water Resources Development Act of 1996, which includes critical flood control and watershed protection and environmental restoration missions for the Corps, will help set a smoother course for future policies and programs.
Effective flood plain management and flood control can alleviate human suffering, save taxpayer dollars, and respect the environment. The 1993 Mississippi flood, which caused over $12 billion in damage, can be very instructive on how we should address flooding and flood plain management issues.
Following the Mississippi Flood, the famous Galloway Report provided detailed examples on how we can reduce flood losses and maximize the use of natural flood control measures.
Relocating people out of dangerous flood plains and restoring wetlands and other natural flood control measures must be considered in any comprehensive flood management program.
It is interesting to noteand I'll make reference to this during the hearing todaythat there was a rather detailed article in this morning's ''New York Times'' on that very subject.
Today's hearing will address these and other issues raised by the recent flooding in California and the Central Valley. We'll here from Federal, State, and local officials about the damages, estimated in excess of $2 billion, and the response efforts. We'll also hear about issues associated with levees such as maintenance and reconstruction and stream clearing.
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Residents of the Central Valley will share some of their personal observations and experiences. In addition, a noted water resources expert and author, Professor Jeffrey Mount, will describe some of the facts and policy debates surrounding flood plain management and environmental protection in California.
And, of course, we will hear from Members of the California delegation. Representatives Herger, Fazio, and Pombo, among others, have taken a lead role in bringing these issues to the attention of this subcommitteeindeed, to the attention of the entire Congressand they are to be commended for what they have done.
We don't always agree on every issue. We never will. But I tell you we always listen, and they are valuable sources of information.
I can assure you this: we do agree on the need for the Federal Government to help rather than hinder in times of disaster.
Now let me turn to the ranking democrat on the subcommittee, the gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Borski.
Mr. BORSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and let me thank you for conducting this hearing. I also want to join with you in praising our FEMA administrator, James Lee Witt, who is, if not the finest, certainly one of the finest appointments by the Clinton Administration, and I think you'll agree, Mr. Chairman, is the bestsimply put, the best FEMA administrator we've ever had.
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We can all recall the devastating flooding which accompanied the arrival of the new year in California. As the subcommittee with jurisdiction over both flood damage reduction program of the Corps of Engineers and the disaster response program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lessons learned from the California floods will aid the subcommittee in its oversight of both programs.
While often a hearing such as this is held to learn what caused the flooding, in truth we all know what caused the floodingmore precipitation fell in the river valleys than the river courses could handle. Flooding rarely gets more complicated than that.
What we can learn, however, is what steps we might take to minimize loss of human life and property during future floods and how we might improve our ability to respond to the needs of flood victims following a flood.
Flood damage reduction is not and never will be primarily a Federal responsibility. For example, in the California Central Valley there are approximately 6,000 miles of levees, but only 1,700 miles of levees are Federal project levees, and not all the project levees were Federally constructed. Over 4,000 miles of levees in California are completely outside any Federal levee program. Yet, when disaster strikes, the Federal Government has proven to be generous in its responsegenerous even in areas where hindsight indicates that people may have placed themselves at risk through overzealous development and inadequate protection.
The California floods indicate a continuing need to review the Federal, State, and local government role in reducing flood damages. While no one denies the need to adequately protect our existing urban areas, we must also consider the impacts future development can have on potential flooding. Every new development, every encroachment upon a traditional flood plain, and every loss of a wetland contributes to the potential for increased flooding downstream of the loss of these natural flood reduction areas.
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There will be a comprehensive review of the flood damage reduction needs of the Central Valley area. I strongly recommend that the study review both the structural and non-structural needs of the area. Levees and dams, alone, are not the answer. While levees may be necessary, perhaps the rebuilding effort could move them back to allow for increased carrying capacity and improved natural storage.
Bypasses and wetlands restoration should also be included in the study, and State and local governments need to review land use patterns, as well.
However, nonstructural approaches do not need to wait until completion of the study. In the Water Resources Development Act of 1996, the Corps was given new authority to explore non-structural options following a flood rather than traditional rebuilding of levees. Because this authority can only be exercised at the request of a local sponsor, I hope the State and local interests will seriously consider this option to rebuilding levees as a tool in reducing the future risks of flooding.
Mr. Chairman, I look forward to hearing from our distinguished witnesses today.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much.
Before we proceed with the first panel, I'd like my colleagues to know if they have any opening statements they can be included in the record at this juncture, but we'd like to proceed. We have a long hearing and a lot of important business to take on.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The prepared statements of Ms. Tauscher and Mr. Wise follow:]
Mr. BOEHLERT. It is my pleasure to welcome the first panel, consisting of four of our most distinguished colleagues from the State of California: Congressman Dick Fazio, Congressman Richard Pombo, Congressman Wally Herger, and Congressman George Miller.
Gentlemen, we're glad to have you here. We look forward to your testimony. Your entire statements will appear in the record. We would ask that you consider summarizing them. What I'd like to do is go in the order announced. Mr. Fazio, you are first.
TESTIMONY OF HON. WALLY HERGER, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM CALIFORNIA; HON. VIC FAZIO, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM CALIFORNIA; HON. RICHARD POMBO, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM CALIFORNIA; AND HON. GEORGE MILLER, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM CALIFORNIA
Mr. FAZIO. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate you and Mr. Borski having this hearing, and I want to thank my colleagues for letting me go first so I can go in and deal on the Energy and Water Committee, which I know is one that this committee works closely with, in this case hearing from Mr. Pena at his first appearance as Secretary of Energy.
Since we began clamoring to have this hearing, we've had the devastating floods in the Ohio River Valley, and I would anticipate that Mr. Thune and Mr. Boswell and others are probably not looking forward to what is estimated to be one of the potentially most devastating flood seasons in the upper midwest. This is going to be the year of the flood in almost every corner of the country.
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We know that FEMA, the Corps of Engineers, and others who will be providing testimony today are going to be stressed and diverted in their attention from one area to another as the crisis unfolds.
But I think for a moment we'd like to focus on the unique aspects of what happened in California. Our delegation has been attempting, working with our Senators, to develop an approach to remedying the problem we face and moving on and preventing it from occurring again.
You know we've already had estimated losses of around $2 billion, 100,000 Californians have been displaced from their homes. We've lost nine lives. It has truly been a devastating experience, only mitigated by the fact that after one of the wettest Januaries in history we've had one of the driest Februaries, and in March so far we haven't had the devastating warm tropical storm come through that would loose one of the most significant snow packs we've had in recent years.
Much of the Sierra is at 200 percent of normal snow pack. We all hope we've gone through the worst. We may yet have some problems ahead of us, just as people in Utah and Colorado may have, with runoff from very, very large snow packs.
The President has or will today perhaps submit a supplemental that will significantly contribute to the solution of our problem, and I would say that problem really is to get back to a level of flood protection consistent with what we had at the beginning of this winter by next September. We need that funding so that emergency recovery work can continue. We've already spent some $50 million. We believe there's about $200 million in the supplemental that will continue that work.
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It's estimated by the Corps that we will have to spend in the neighborhood of $250 million to perhaps $300 million just to put the system back in place.
We also need to begin to follow on the emergency repairs, because not only do we want to get back to the level of protection we had before the flooding; if we can take advantage of opportunities to improve levees where we were already planning to over the next several years, we ought to do that because it will not only save us time, maybe further disaster relief, but certainly money.
And so what we'd like to do is to take advantage of some of the work the Corps was planning to do under the emergency conditions.
Obviously, one of our concerns is that the funds not come out of the annual budgets of the Corps and the Bureau of Reclamation, which are making progress on anothermany other, franklyimportant issues that will come before the Congress in the appropriations this year.
I would hope this committee would certainly provide as much support for that supplemental appropriations bill as possible, and we know that could get very complicated if it becomes a mandatory requirement for offsets, although I believe the Administration is sending up an urgent supplemental that will not require that. I hope the Congress will follow their lead on that.
Part of our problem, thoughand maybe even more important problem for this committee's attentionis long-term. We need your help in identifying long-term solutions that are going to prevent these kinds of catastrophes from occurring in the future.
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We had division in our ranks last year, but a significant number of our delegation fought for a project that we thought would offer perhaps the highest level of flood protection required for the city of Sacramento, the Auburn Dam. This committee knows it well. You chose not to support that. But that doesn't mean that there aren't many other proposals that may come before you that will have the same kind of impact on providing higher levels of flood protection for not just one community but many up and down the Central Valley of California.
We need to identify the problems we face in common and the best combination of solutions we can, and we need to have a delegation that supports it as broadly and in as bipartisan a fashion as we possibly can.
We've already talked to Martin Lancaster about initiating a comprehensive study similar to the Galloway study that you've already mentioned, Mr. Chairman. He's agreed to get started on that, and we certainly hope that can be done by reprogramming existing funds.
We obviously cannot move forward unless we're prepared to come up with the mix of solutions that will provide the kind of protection we need into the future.
The Administration is among many others supporting non-structural alternatives, and I agree that where non-structural approaches can provide the level of protection we need in the most cost-effective manner, we should pursue them.
We have opportunities on the Cosumnes River south of Sacramento, in the Lower San Joaquin River, perhaps in the area between Chico Landing and Red Bluff on the Sacramento River, where this kind of approach might be most effective.
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But we already need to point out, Mr. Chairman, that we have a system of bypasses that are working very well in northern California, particularly on the Sacramento River, which are intended to prevent flooding and are doing the job effectively. We may need to develop that kind of bypass system more effectively on the San Joaquin River.
The point is, we are already using approaches which I think are consistent with some of the values that were described in the Galloway study.
There are other areas where proposals for meander belts and setback levees may, however, be too costly or impractical. We need to come at this with a pragmatic approach. We need to be willing to tailor our solutions to what may be the conditions on the ground.
I think we also have to look at off-stream storage where it's appropriate. There are several off-stream reservoir locations north of Sacramento: Sites Reservoir in Colusa County, which is not authorized but which is moving quickly up the list of priorities in the process because it has the potential of providing additional water to the delta; Cottonwood Dam, which is an old Corps project that is authorized but hasn't proceeded; Oat Creek, which is a Bureau project that is authorized that could provide some off-stream storage, and flood protection for the Northern Valley, as well as additional water to solve our delta quality issue.
We need to be willing to come together as a delegation and ask this committee for your assistance, perhaps in a new authorization down the road, to look once again at the Corps project levees and the problems that have been created around them.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think we need to base all of our planning on the commitment of the State of California, perhaps to pass a bond act similar to the one that was passed in the last election cycle, specifically for flood protection, to help with local cost share.
We need to ask the Federal Government to provide assistance on those Corps project levees and perhaps on some additional levees, but I'm sure this committee will be quick to tell us that there are limits and restraints on our ability to ask for Federal help, but in some cases levees may have taken on increasing importance.
We have, I think, begun to work with consensus approach in California. We have $143 million in this year's budget, placed there by the Administration, for the CALFED process. I'd like the process of dealing with our flood protection to be part and parcel of that.
We have the players at the table from one end of the political spectrum to the other. We're not going to get anything done unless we find consensus on every one of these issues.
It seems to me the kind of support that you gave us in the WRDA last year is the kind of support we'd like to get again in the future, but only if we can bring you not only some State money to the table but a delegation that isn't divided on these issues so that we don't ask this committee to divide itself in its efforts to help California.
There are many people who will be appearing before you today who I've worked closely with on these issues, in addition to my colleaguespeople like Charlie Hoppin, people like Jeff Mountwho will, I think, in their presentations show you the diversity of my own District, and one of the reasons why it's important for this delegation to continue to work to consensus so that we don't hand you a hot potato but an approach to a solution we can all get behind.
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Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much. We've come to expect diversity from California.
Mr. FAZIO. We've got to overcome it.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Moving right along in that tradition, may I please present to the committee Mr. Pombo.
Mr. POMBO. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I don't know about your comment, but there is diversity on the panel, and I think that California represents a number of different interests, and I think that the peoplemy colleagues and the other people that are going to testify before you today represent some of the differing opinions that are out there.
I'd like to thank you for agreeing to hold this hearing on the flood damage in California and throughout the country that we have had.
I want to also take this opportunity to also thank the Federal agencies. I think it's well known that I have been highly critical of the different Federal agencies at times, but I can honestly say that, throughout the process that we went through with the floods in my District, that we received very, very few complainants about the job that they were doing, and they responded in an outstanding manner.
As a matter of fact, many times, as we were out on the levee banks looking at the damage and trying to do the flood fight, whether it was Army Corps or FEMA or other Federal agencies, they were right there hand-in-hand with the local residents fighting. I was impressed with the job that they did. I think they truly do need to be commended for the work that they did on our behalf.
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I'd also like to recognize witnesses from my District that will testify later.
On behalf of San Joaquin County, Water Resources Coordinator John Pulver will address several flood issues that are important to San Joaquin County.
On behalf of the Sloughhouse Resources Conservation District will be its chairman, Bill Mosher. Mr. Mosher will discuss issues relating to private levees along Cosumnes River that Mr. Fazio mentioned in his testimony.
Both these gentlemen have been instrumental in providing me and my office with the necessary information on the flood disaster.
This Congress has its work cut out for it in the next few months. Damages from the California floods are expected to exceed $2 billion. In my District, alone, San Joaquin County endured an estimated $59 million in damage to homes, over $12 million in damages to businesses, $13 million to agriculture, and $15 million to infrastructure. Of the area I represent in Sacramento County, the damages have not yet been finalized, but it is estimated that there is over $1 million in damage to homes, as well as an undetermined amount of damage to agriculture within the region.
I want to reinforce that all of these figures are purely estimates and more than likely will increase as the flood waters recede.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I understand that Congress will need to appropriate emergency supplemental funds for the flood response actions undertaken by the various flood agencies. This funding will be key in ensuring that California's flood victims get back on their feet; therefore, I urge members of the subcommittee to join me in supporting that supplemental bill.
However, we all need to recognize that flooding in northern California is far from over. Additional flooding is expected to begin this spring when the snow pack begins to melt. As Congressman Fazio earlier testified to, the flood area that I represent has a 200 percent of normal snow pack, and as that begins to melt we will have that come down on us, as well.
Many of the levees that broke during the past flood have been temporarily repaired. Some of them have not yet been repaired. As that snow pack begins to melt, it will again begin to flood within my District.
Officials from Sacramento County have informed me that they do not have the necessary resources available to repair the numerous breaks along Cosumnes River levee system. They have requested assistance from FEMA but were denied emergency funding because private levees are not eligible for Federal assistance.
The Army Corps of Engineers has explained that they, too, are prohibited from working on private levees unless there is a flood fight in progress.
In spite of the fact that the Cosumnes residents are in the process of forming a reclamation district, they are left with few, if any, options. The organization of a reclamation district will enable them to maintain and repair their levees, but it is a lengthy process and doing so will not answer their immediate needs. It is almost certain that these constituents will flood again, since the levee system has suffered catastrophic failure.
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In the interest of protecting the lives and property of my constituents, I would like to press upon the subcommittee to assist in resolving this problem. I request that the subcommittee authorize language that will provide limited funding for one-time repairs to the failed levees in the Cosumnes River. Such an appropriation should be met with matching funds from the State, as well.
Once authorized, this bill could be included as part of the emergency supplemental bill.
I do not seek a Federal takeover of these levees; however, I do seek an immediate solution that addresses the dire needs of the residents along the river. Doing so will also prevent further degradation to wildlife and the environment.
Flood protection needs to be restored to this area.
This subcommittee, through its authorization, will provide great assistance in restoring such protection to the region.
The second issue I want to bring to your attention is of a much larger scope. As hard as it is to believe, it has come to my attention that a comprehensive flood study of the Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins has never been carried out. Despite the unknown reasons for not doing such a survey before now, it is apparent that this must be done. Therefore, I additionally request that the subcommittee authorize funding for an independent, comprehensive study of northern and central California's flood control system. This, too, could be included as part of the emergency supplemental bill.
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I believe such a review of the current flood control system in regards to this disaster will lead to recommendations for improvements that will reduce the risk of future flooding.
Furthermore, it may highlight areas of policy and regulation that need to be changed.
The findings of this study should not be intended to place blame, but rather to prevent future flooding that could be repeated if the study is not carried out.
In keeping with the need for a comprehensive review, private levees should not be overlooked by any study that seeks long-term solutions.
In closing, it is unfortunate that flooding has become a way of life for many communities throughout the country. As my constituents know, flooding at any level can be devastating. It is essential that this Congress pass an emergency bill with funding for urgent levee repair.
It is critical for the future, the economic future as well as the safety and well-being of the constituents in my District, that we come up with some long-term solutions to these problems. I think that many times Government regulation stands in the way of a long-term solution, and as we look at developing that long-term plan of how we're going to deal with this, it may also be necessary to review why we got into the situation to begin with.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I thank the chairman, the ranking member, and the subcommittee, again.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Mr. Pombo. I appreciate your testimony.
Next we'll hear from Mr. Herger.
Mr. Herger, I'd like to commend you because you've sort of been, with your colleagues' support, the driving force to precipitate this hearing, so we welcome you and look forward to your statement.
You'll notice the Chair has been generous with your two colleagues on a bipartisan basis. Both of them exceeded their time. We permitted them because both of them had something very important to say, and we know you will, too.
Mr. HERGER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, ranking member, and other members of this committee. I will work to stay within my time.
I thank you for the opportunity to speak on behalf of California regarding the recent flooding. I'd like to begin by sharing a few statistics about the 1997 flood.
January 1997, brought the worst flooding in California's recorded history. Nine people were killed. Six were constituents from my own District. More than 120,000 people were evacuated from their homes, and more than $1.6 billion worth of damage was suffered. Of the State's 56 counties, 48 were declared State and national disaster areas. This includes each of the 10 counties within my own District.
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Aside from the loss of life, probably the most disturbing statistic is the fact that this was the third 100-year catastrophic-level flood to hit California in the past 11 years.
The 1986 flooding caused $400 million worth of damage. Fortunately, in that flood no lives were lost.
In 1995, 28 people were killed and $1.8 billion worth of damage was caused by early and late winter floods.
One of the witnesses today will testify regarding at least one instance where the Federal Government has not delivered promised Federal relief from the disastrous 1995 floods.
I mention these facts to bring this issue into perspective. California has an absolute need to develop aggressive flood prevention programs. Our flood control system has failed three times in the past 11 years.
California also has an absolute need to define the responsibility of the Federal Government in maintaining California's flood control system.
The Federal Government took control out of local hands, then neglected its responsibility to maintain and repair the flood control system. It took control of levee construction permits, debris removal, upper watershed management, and waterway maintenance. This control should and must require accountability.
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This accountability should come before, not after, the flood hits. When the water is rising and the levee is breaking, it is too late to begin meager efforts to hold everything in place.
The time to assume responsibility is when the sun is shining and when repair efforts will have life-saving effects.
When the recent floods hit, however, Federal agencies were caught unaware of emergency powers which allowed them to respond to flood situations. On January 17, 1997, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers executed a memorandum of agreement establishing an expedited procedure of review for flood repair activities.
This agreement was rescinded less than one week later when the Fish and Wildlife Service finally reviewed its own statutory powers and realized the law granted emergency authority to make repairs without prior consultation. Emergency powers defer such requirements until after the emergency has abated.
It is unclear how many flood activities were delayed until officials finally figured out what action could not be taken.
I suggest we take the opportunity of this hearing, Mr. Chairman and Members, to take a serious look at the devastation caused by January floods. We have a duty to find out what we are doing wrong, because something is wrong, Mr. Chairman, when a flood control system supposedly designed to withstand a once-in-a-century-type flood fails three times in a little more than a decade. We need to find what has contributed to the failure of the system and assign responsibility, no matter where it belongs.
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Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you and this committee for holding this fact-finding hearing. I look forward to hearing the evidence presented today and hope it will be useful to this committee and the Congress as we look for ways to improve California's flood control system and to protect the lives, property, and communities of California residents.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Mr. Herger.
Mr. MILLER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for giving our delegation this time.
As my colleagues have pointed out, and as they have documented to you the extent of the damage and the tragedy, I want to join them in commending the Federal agencies that responded in such a quick fashion to the plight of individuals and families that were caught unaware by these floods.
These events again prove that we need to help people avoid the impact of high rainfall and rivers raging outside of their banks. What the floods do not prove, however, is that we need to build more dams and control flooding. The floods do not prove that enforcement of our laws on endangered species cause the floods, as easy as it is to blame that law. Nor do they compel the Federal taxpayer to restore all damage to structures that lie in the flood plains.
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Obviously, we must respond to the immediate needs of Californians who have been affected by the floods and who require assistance to get their lives back together. Equally important, however, is how we respond to floods that have not yet happened. We need to start thinking now about how to handle these future floods in California.
I would hope that everyone concerned, including the State of California, the Federal agencies, local government, and our citizens, will see an opportunity to learn some of the important lessons from the January floods. We know we can learn from floods, as we saw in the response to the Mississippi River Basin floods in 1993, and that we can develop principles of hazard mitigation.
As the experts have stated, the California levees broke because there was too much water. The rains and the melting snow pack combined to push incredible volumes of water downriver. On this subject we probably agree that the levee system is outdated. The solution is where we diverge.
The traditional solution is simply to rebuild the straight, single-thread levee channels bigger and stronger. It's obviously a system that does not work. Instead, I believe we need to look at restoring channel complexity, adopting watershed management techniques such as flood plain management, wetland protection, and setback levees, so that we can catch the water where it falls instead of trying the push it downstream.
This is not all we need to look at, however. We need to look beyond the riparian issues to up-slope habitat, as well. Forest management policies that allow upstream clear-cutting and construction of logging roads on unstable slopes lead to erosion and slides that not only destroy valuable fisheries habitat but contribute to downstream floods, as well.
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Two features of the Mississippi River Basin program come to mind. Perhaps they could produce significant benefits if implemented in California.
First, Federal agencies worked together to help flood victims who wished to relocate out of the flood plain to do so. Secondly, existing levee systems were re-engineered to ensure that they would maximize flood hazard reduction.
These steps might seem like common sense, but they require a new approach to emergency flood assistance. Instead of putting everything back the way it was before the flood, Federal agencies should be able to assist local communities to reduce the risk of high-water damage in the future.
Yet, in the wake of the California floods, some are calling for a new round of expensive and controversial dam construction. This seems somewhat silly when you consider the fact that California has a law on its books 3 years old now that restricts communities from managing their flood plains by requiring that they allow rebuilding in flood plains of multi-family dwellings destroyed by floods and other natural disasters.
A recent State legislative report has suggested that this law be repealed. It's incredible that we would pour hundreds of millions of dollars of Federal assistance into a State when the State says you can't use these other management tools inside of the flood plains.
Another way we might reduce the impact on future floods is to consider enacting legislation similar to the Coastal Barriers Resource Act for river flood plains. The premise of the Coastal Barriers Act is simple: if you want to build on undeveloped lands in flood zones, don't expect the Federal taxpayer to subsidize your construction.
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The Coastal Barriers Resources Act denies Federal flood insurance and other Government assistance for new construction on undeveloped land in flood zones along our coast, but this does not apply to river watersheds. I would hope this committee would take a look at it.
As this committee meets today to review the California floods, a coalition of 15 organizations is announcing a set of five principles of California flood management and flood plain restoration. These principles are summarized as follows:
To restore the river systems and functions that improve flood management, while also bolstering the effectiveness of existing flood control systems.
To better manage the use of flood plains to minimize taxpayers' expense and maximize environmental health.
To manage the entire watershed to provide the most protection from floods in an environmentally sensitive way. Comprehensive efforts should be made to restore natural flood plain habitat and associated hydrologic functions to levels that take significant pressure off the crucial but minimum habitat available today.
State, local, and Federal agencies and governments, non-governmental stakeholders, and concerned members of the public need to work cooperatively to develop and implement better short-term flood response coordination and funding. The implementation for more innovative and comprehensive long-term alternatives should be facilitated and leveraged.
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I think this is the kind of thinking that this committee hopefully will undertake as they think about providing this long-term protection. Simply suggesting that people can build in areas because we think we can engineer 100-year flood protection I think would be the folly of the past, and I would hope that we would again, as Congressman Fazio and my colleagues have talked about, try to arrive at an independent assessment of this.
Assembly Speaker Bustamente and Senator pro tem Lockyear have asked the President for an independent assessment, and I think that would be helpful. I think also helpful is the suggestion also of the flood assessments of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley, and even inadequate mapping that exists today because, unfortunately, the Congress is not giving the agencies the kind of resources necessary to conclude the mapping that would help local planners and State agencies and the Federal agencies decide how best California can design its flood protection for the future.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Mr. Miller. And the delegation has not failed to live up to its advanced billing. There is diversity there. You have all contributed significantly to our deliberations, and I want to thank you for your appearances today.
Mr. BORSKI. Mr. Chairman, I want to ask unanimous consent that the statement of Congressman Matsui be placed in the record at this point.
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Mr. BOEHLERT. Without objection, so ordered.
My colleagues, we thank you very much.
Panel number two this morning consists of one person, Mr. James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Mr. Witt, as you're taking your place, I would like to point out to my colleagues that the statements of the first panel all had high words of praise for the outstanding work of Mr. Witt and the FEMA agency, and we want to welcome you here this morning, and we look forward to your testimony.
Your entire statement, as usual, and all supplemental material that you'd care to submit for our consideration will be made part of the record at this juncture. We would ask that you might summarize your testimony and we'll get right at it.
TESTIMONY OF JAMES LEE WITT, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, WASHINGTON, DC
Mr. WITT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
It is an honor for me to be here before you today and to speak to you about our recent disaster activities, especially in California. Having recently witnessed the trauma and devastation along the Ohio River, my remarks will also touch on some of those disasters.
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As you know, the winter floods in California had a widespread devastating impact on that State. Over 100,000 residents were forced to evacuate their homes, and the American Red Cross sheltered over 20,000 people. To date, FEMA has accepted applications for assistance from over 21,297 California residents.
FEMA immediately responded to this incident by deploying experienced disaster response staff to the State and by authorizing the immediate emergency assistance that was required to repair utilities such as electricity and water, and to restore residential access to affected areas, and to ensure that essential facilities and buildings were operational.
Forty-eight California counties are now included in the President's major disaster declaration. I will be reviewing the situation on a week-to-week basis rather than closing the disaster declaration period after all the emergency needs have been met.
Over 8,400 temporary housing assistance checks totaling $13 million have been mailed to affected residents.
FEMA and the State have approved over $6 million in individual family grant programs, which helps affected residents meet serious needs caused by disaster.
FEMA and the State of California have conducted numerous inspections for the public assistance grant program, resulting in over 990 damage survey reports. Over $10 million in Federal funds have already been obligated to the State of California for public assistance projects.
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I'm aware that we have had difficulties in effecting this move operation following the State-wide floods in 1995, and I have taken several steps to ensure that these difficulties are resolved.
In August 1996, I installed new leadership in the FEMA region nine disaster close-out center. Mr. John Swanson was charged with reducing the backlog of pending obligations, appeals, and reconsideration of damage assessments.
Over the next 4 months after he was put in that position, FEMA was able to make significant progress by reducing our backlog, better explaining FEMA policy, and communicating our rationale for funding decisions.
An important aspect of this effort to resolve outstanding issues was strengthening the partnership between FEMA, State, and local officials and Members of Congress in the affected areas.
At the present time, FEMA has obligated $180.7 million to the State of California for previous flooding incidents. FEMA received approximately 19,885 damage survey reports from the 1995 flood events. Funds for 98 percent of the DSRs have been obligated, 330 remain. FEMA has received 1,074 funding decision appeals from the State, 274 of which are still being considered; 47 damage survey reports have been suspended pending further information from the applicants and environmental reviews.
In the current flooding incident, I have instituted numerous procedural changes to streamline the public assistance grant program. These procedures should minimize problems that have resulted during previous disasters in the State.
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For example, to ensure better uniformity and consistency in damage inspections, more-intensive training programs are being conducted at the disaster field office. This training is being provided to both FEMA and California Office of Emergency Service personnel, regardless of their previous experience or training. It is to ensure that all inspectors are instructed in the same policies and procedures.
No Federal agency inspector was given a field assignment until he or she had been fully trained in the field, and the senior reviewers from other FEMA regions conducted on-the-job training for reviewers to ensure consistency.
Several measures were implemented to expedite damage survey reports review process. DSRs are reviewed in the field and all issues are resolved, to the greatest extent possible, in the field. Any issues that cannot be addressed in the field are jointly resolved with State officials in the disaster field office.
This process will ensure more-accurate DSRs from the field, faster processing and obligating of funding, and fewer re-inspections and appeals.
To immediately pay for emergency work, a procedure was implemented to expedite funding to local officials that were adversely affected by the disaster. Many communities were experiencing cash flow problems due to emergency actions taken during the flood-fighting phase of the response effort. This expedited process provides immediate funding for expenditures on emergency work such as debris removal.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Because of the number of damaged levees in this disaster, a levee working group was established to facilitate the coordinated review of all requests for repairs to levee and flood control works. This group provides a single review that takes into account the program resources, regulatory responsibilities of the member agencies.
The group includes representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, FEMA, and the State of California.
Mr. Chairman, I'll have to continue to go on and summarize the rest of this, since my red light is on.
I have just recently been to Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Indiana, and the devastation there in those States is very badsimilar to what California has been hit with. We've already taken over 31,000 applications in the Ohio River Valley.
In one little community of Thelma that I was in, and Manchester, and Ripley in Ohioin Thelma, that community basically had 600 homes destroyed and most of all the businesses. The water, literally, at the McDonald's restaurant, a 30-foot sign, the water was all the way to the top of the arch of the McDonald's sign.
Governor Voinovich, Governor O'Bannon, Governor Sundquist, and all the governors that I visited withand I think you, Mr. Chairman, and many members of this committeesee that we all have to work stronger together in doing more preventive measures in mitigation to keep this type of devastation from happening in the future.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much.
Let me ask you first of all, FEMA is in the process of trying to encourage States to establish State trust funds so that the State funding is immediately available in the event of a natural disaster.
Did any of the States affected by the winter floods have such a fund? And, if so, did this fund offer these States any advantage over States that did not have such a fund?
Mr. WITT. Several of the States have a fund set up. West Virginia had set up a $63 million rainy day fund. The advantage that it gave West Virginia, particularly these small communities across the State, is that West Virginia could go ahead and advance dollars to those local communities to help clean up and fight floods. And then, as our teams went in after the disaster was declared, then there would be a reimbursement for those dollars.
But it made a big difference in West Virginia. When I was there and looked at that disaster, they had completely cleaned all their streets, they had completely started cleaning everything out of the businesses. The community could have a jump start on rebuilding and getting their community
Mr. BOEHLERT. But do you have any problem in the reimbursement process, because if they clean it up how do they document what the damage was, and how do youI mean, you just can't accept it at face value.
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Mr. WITT. They do an assessment. They also take pictures. They also keep up with their time, overtime costs, and their equipment costs, and the hours that they operated that equipment.
Mr. BOEHLERT. So you don't really have any problem documenting it?
Mr. WITT. No, sir.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Because most mayors I know are very creative, and I've seen some interesting proposals on how to get reimbursed for certain things.
Mr. WITT. One thing, Mr. Chairman, we started in September 1996, particularlyand we put it in place in California in this floodwas we published a public assistance guide for local government to use, and it walks them through every aspect of a disaster and what they need to do and how they need to do it, and I think that, in itself, is making a big difference this time.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Are you having much success at convincing those States that don't have such a rainy day fund to institute one?
Mr. WITT. What we're looking at now, Mr. Chairman, is trying to redesign the public assistance program, and we're working on legislation to redesign this program because what we need to do is to expedite it, cut the red tape, make it user friendly to the local officials, yet still be accountable. Stop the intense review process. Make the decisions in the field with local officials.
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But those States that work harder in implementing mitigation, those States that work harder in implementing a State disaster fund, then we're going to be looking at giving those States a better cost share in the disaster declaration as an incentive to do this.
Mr. BOEHLERT. That's wonderful. We'll work closely with you on that.
You do a lot of things right, and one of the things I likebecause I've had first-hand experience when we had the disastrous flooding in my Congressional Districtis after sort of the dust had settled you brought some of the local government officials to Washington, and, as I have had it reported to me, had sort of a round-table discussion with others from around the country, and your people listened. The professionals who are on the job daily here listened to the people from the local communities.
I know the feedback I got from a very colorful chairman of the board in one of my counties was that he thought it was extremely valuable. And I can tell everybody here this: when they first had the floods, this chairman of the board of one of my counties said, ''I don't want any S.O.B. from Washington coming up here and telling me how we're going run this thing.'' And the S.O.B. from Washington came, and when all was said and done they were just absolutely amazed at the response they got from the Federal Government and the willingness to cooperate that was evident on the part of your entire team.
I want to commend you for that.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Let meI've got some other questions, but I want to give other people a chance to participate, so let me turn to my colleague, Ms. Tauscher.
Ms. TAUSCHER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Director Witt, I want to commend you for your help and your staff's help in California in my District, the 10th, in eastern Contra Costa County, which specifically benefitted from your quick assessment.
Congress has made changes to the Stafford Act to enhance flood damage reduction, yet your testimony seems to imply that current disaster response programs, even with those changes, are insufficient to achieve significant flood damage reduction.
Do you have any suggestions regarding additional legislative changes that FEMA may need to discourage unwise flood plain development and to reduce the cost of flood damage?
Mr. WITT. We are working now and in our budget for 1998 we are asking for $50 million for a pre-disaster mitigation fund.
Of course, I asked OMB for $500 million, but they thought that was a little high.
Ms. TAUSCHER. Sort of moved the decimal point?
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WITT. Yes. But this is very important because we have been working with the private industry, the insurance industry, the Mortgage Lending Institute, the real estate industry, the Home Building Association, and I have had three round-tables with private industry to bring in the partnership to start looking at and working with communities in disaster-resistant communities concept, where all of us together in a partnership would help minimize the risk in those communities.
These programsthis program and the standards for this program will be in our proposed changes that we're going to be recommending.
Ms. TAUSCHER. In the President's budget request $50 million for pre-disaster mitigation funds?
Mr. WITT. Yes.
Ms. TAUSCHER. Will this involve a legislative proposal, as well? Could you give the subcommittee more details, perhaps, on this proposal?
Mr. WITT. We're looking at some changes in the Stafford Act that hopefully we will have the language coming forward before July that we would highly recommend in changing some of the funding of the Stafford Act, changing the cost shares in the Stafford Act, and rewarding those States that do a better job, which I think is absolutely essential
Ms. TAUSCHER. Yes.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WITT.looking at helping the States to do more in mitigation. And now we're working with the States in developing a State-wide mitigation plan, a 409 plan, which will help them to prioritize those mitigation projects in that State before the disaster ever happens.
It's time for us to change what we're doing and how we're doing it. The only time we can do mitigation is after the disaster.
Ms. TAUSCHER. Right.
Mr. WITT. We have to start doing more pre-disaster. So there are a lot of changes that I think will make the program stronger, make our response capability and the States' capability stronger, so that's what we're looking at.
Ms. TAUSCHER. We look forward to seeing those proposals.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Mr. Horn?
Mr. HORN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Pursuing the issue of mitigation with you, I know your strong feelings on this and you've expressed those again this morning.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC One of the things that we need to deal with is under the existing lawand Sacramento was certainly subject to that area, just as some parts of southern California, and I won't get into this in detail. I'm going to wait to discuss it with the Corps, primarily. But we faced the problem where some of these areas might have mandatory flood insurance under the current law imposed on these areas.
The irony is that hundreds of millions of dollars would be taken out of these areas, and the problems still wouldn't be solved, based on the recommendations and the level of authorization and appropriations.
The President's budget, as you know, when it came to civil works of the Corps, has not really funded these projects or recommended funding as much as they should be if you're going to get the job done, given where we are and what we've seen happen in Northern California.
So the question really is: to what degree do you think it would be appropriate, if you had to have any mandatory insurance, to have a trust fund where that money could go immediately out to finish the construction in these areas which would preventyour point on pre-disasterwhich would prevent future disasters and needs for the insurance? Is there some thinking we could do to change that law to get to your premitigation part, but using the insurance trust fund, if we had to use it?
I think it's a disaster for these areas if we impose it without moving this levee system. It has all been testified here of the problem of levees, and we can get to private levees in a minute, but what's your sort of gut reaction to that?
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Mr. WITT. Congressman Horn, I would be more than happy to look at that with you and work with you on seeing what we could do with this.
I met with all of the Orange County mayors in my office a few months ago. There is a Corps of Engineers' project in Orange County, a drainage project, that was to be built within 2 years. Because of the lack of funding, it's going to stretch this project out over to 10 years. So it's going to force those communities in that area, because of the flood maps and where they are located, to buy flood insurance at a higher rate because they're in a different zone. They're put in a different zone.
One mayor told me in his community, alone, because of people requiring to buy flood insurance over that extended period of time in a small community, it was going to take $132 million out of that community just for flood insurance.
So it's important that we look at some way that we can do this.
Mr. HORN. Well, I agree with you. And one portion of the Natural Disaster Act that Mr. Mineta and Mr. Emerson co-authored and a lot of us joined them in providing for mitigation centers around the country that could spread the word, work with people hands-on to show them how you mitigate.
You've had a number of examples. I know you mentioned to me the West Virginia town where you moved the houses back from the flood plain and right near the water where there was no damage when the next flood came.
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We have a lot of those examples in different parts of the country.
But how do you feel about having these types of centers that, in essence, would do what agricultural extension has done so well for farmers for 100 years in this country?
Mr. WITT. It may work. I'd be happy to look at it.
Mr. HORN. Because that would be funded, if we went ahead with the Natural Disaster Act, out of some of the receipts that are coming in, to really reduce and share the cost of insurance across the country.
Do you have any feelings on the value of those?
Mr. WITT. Of course, my problem when we were working with Congressman Mineta at that time, on the legislation that he was working with, my concern with that legislation at that time was the availability of the insurance, plus the affordability of the insurance.
Mr. HORN. Yes.
Mr. WITT. Just because it was available didn't necessarily mean that it was affordable and people would purchase it, so I had a serious concern about that.
The mitigation side of the legislation I strongly supported.
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Mr. HORN. Good. I thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Mr. Horn.
Mr. BLUMENAUER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Witt, I wonder if you could just take us one step further. You've talked about pre-mitigation. I wonder if you could elaborate on the potential role that FEMA may have in actually preventing disasters.
We've got a lot of folks that are on the edge of losing their homes. You see repeatedly the folly that has occurred where people are messing with Mother Nature and we're now trying to play catch-up.
Is there a legitimate role for FEMA to move us a step beyond, to be more aggressive in actually preventing these disasters in the first place?
Mr. WITT. I think we've already begun to move to that next step, since the 1993 flood in the midwest. At that time Congressman Volkmer and several Members of Congress passed the 1993 legislation, the Volkmer bill, increasing the percentage of money from 10 percent to 15 percent of the overall cost of the Federal disaster for mitigation in a State.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In the 1993 flood we pulled the Federal agencies together to work with each of the nine States in a buyout/relocation programa volunteer basis. It has been very, very successful. We've bought out over 10,000 pieces of property in the midwest on a buyout/relocation program that all the States participated in.
What was really good about it was the little community of Pattonsburg, Missouri, that I was at and Governor Carnahan was at, had flooded 31 times in its history. I never will forget the Mayor took me into City Hall and he kept showing me the high-water marks from each flood with shelves stacked up above the recent flood marks where he could store his papers, city papers.
That little town, all of us working togetherFEMA, HUD, Corps of Engineers, the governor, the local community, all of uswe were able to help that community to relocate its 142 residents and 18 businesses where it will never flood again.
Valmar, Grafton, Illinoisall these communities that we worked in doing this, this flood that we're having right now, the flood waters in Grafton would have flooded all of those homes again, over 1,000 people in that community. But the Mayor said he wasn't worried about it this year because they would not get flooded.
In the 1995 flood in the Midwest, Illinois and Missouri, the same communities that we did a volunteer buyout program with were flooded again, but there was no one there to be flooded, and all the land reverted back to the city or county, whichever it was in, as open land use management. They could build a park or they could build jogging trails, and it was environmentally good, but it was good for the community, it was good for the Federal Government because it doesn't cost us any more disaster dollars. We don't have to spend taxpayer dollars repeatedly on this.
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So I think we've taken that step, but I think we need to take it just a little bit further in doing the preventive measures before disaster strikes because we all know the high risk in certain communities across our country, whether it's a flood, earthquake, hurricane, or fire.
California has been hit with four floods, wildfires, and then the most costly disaster we've ever had in history, the Northridge earthquake, and all of this within 4 years.
We've seen time and time again retrofitting in an earthquake area makes a significant difference.
There was one home in Hollywood in the historical block that we were on, this one houseevery house there had either major damage or was almost destroyed but this one house. This gentleman was standing in his front lawn when I went up thereand the First Lady was there. All the houses around him were almost totally destroyed. He never even had a single pane of glass broken in his house.
I said, ''What did you do? Why did you not have any damage?'' He said, ''I went to the library and I checked out a FEMA OAS video tape and I spent $1,000 and I retrofitted my house myself.'' He didn't even have a brick loosened in his chimney.
So we can do a lot, but it's important that we bring in the industry, we bring in our partners, and they are ready to step up and help us because I have met with them and they're very excited about this and they really want to get involved.
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So I think we're ready to move to that next step, but we're going to need your help to help us get there.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much. Would you make that videotape available for the subcommittee?
Mr. WITT. Yes, sir.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you.
With that, I turn to the vice chair of the subcommittee, Mr. Thune.
Mr. THUNE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Witt, it's a pleasure to have you before us today. I know that I, too, want to commend you for the great work that your agency has done in my State of South Dakota. I know you've been on the ground first-hand and have seen a lot of the damage that we've had from blizzards and what will be eventually flooding out there, as well. We're facing and anticipating repairing as best we can. I know your organization has had a number of people out there who are working diligently with us to see that that gets done.
I also want to compliment you on the work that you have done in the way of a partnership between State and local governments. I know our governor and Congressional delegation, our local governments, that you have worked very well with them, and we are very appreciative of that.
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Just a couple of questions, if I might.
In the 1988 amendments to the Stafford Act, there was a provision that no geographic area would be precluded from receiving assistance under the act solely by virtue of an arithmetic formula or sliding scale based upon population.
In 1995, the GAO, in a report, stated that, ''The number of homes destroyed or sustaining major damage might be expected to be larger in more-densely-populated areas than in less-densely-populated areas.''
South Dakota, in fact, has rarely, I think, received individual assistance from FEMA, and the question I guess I would have is: might that fact be attributable in part to the criteria that, by its very nature, is sort of more prohibitive to rural areas?
As a follow up to that, could you explain how you determine eligibility and whether or not these factors adhere to the prohibition on a strict, quantifiable formula-type factor?
Mr. WITT. That's a very good question, Congressman. All the disasters that we declare we look at very closely with the States. The States submitthe governor makes the request for FEMA and to the President or to the President and we review it.
The disaster declaration is based on whether it is beyond the capability of State and local government to be able to respond. It has no bearing on whether it's a rural community or a populous community.
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The impact to those communities in that State and to the individuals, if that impact is beyond their capability, then it absolutely is looked at and recommended to declare.
Mr. THUNE. Okay. But in terms of the individual assistance, that's not predicated on some formula that might disproportionately affect rural areas?
Mr. WITT. If it'sI believe it'spublic assistance is $1 per capita, and there's not a per capita figure for individual assistance.
Mr. THUNE. Okay. One other question. I understand that FEMA had to go through a number of procedural environmental-type requirements before providing assistance during the western flooding, including exclusions from NEPAthe National Environment Policy Actcompleting some programmatic consultations on endangered species that could be affected by FEMA action, Clean Water Act, etc.
Some of these thingsthere's an agreement with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and others in order to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act.
Given your intention and desire to streamline the emergency assistance process, how does the delay and the administrative expense of meeting these requirementshow can that be diminished?
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WITT. What we're doing at the present time is looking at how we can push the environmental review and the environmental assessment back down to the States where the States could do it in their State and in their disaster, similar to what HUD and other Federal agencies do now.
Right now the process at FEMA is that the environmental review and environmental impact statement is done by us, which takes too long, and it takes too much red tape.
So we are in the process of changing, trying to get the authority to push it down and let the States do the environmental impact study and the review, where we could go ahead and move much faster.
Mr. THUNE. Is there anything that this committee can do to assist with that? Is that something that you just need to get from
Mr. WITT. We need to get our language worked up, and we're in the process. That's part of the process that we're changing in the public assistance program, hopefully.
Mr. THUNE. I, for one, would certainly like to work with you on that.
Mr. WITT. I would like to say, Congressman, I was in South Dakota a week ago Saturday, and, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, it looked like you were flying into the North Pole.
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Mr. THUNE. Yes.
Mr. WITT. There was snow still 10 and 15 feet deep around the homes.
Mr. THUNE. We have our work cut out for us.
Mr. WITT. Yes.
Mr. THUNE. We appreciate very much your help and look forward to working with you on that.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. You know, there are some who suggest, and we've had testimony before the subcommittee that would suggest we just sort of ignore environmental laws as we go forward in responding to disasters. That is not going to happen, nor should it ever happen.
It's a delicate balancing act, so I can appreciate the problem you have, and when you're trying to get the States to assume more of the responsibility I hope you're not in any way suggesting that there should be any winking or nodding in terms of environmental law, because that is very important.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WITT. Not at all. A lot of States do their environmental impact statements and do their environmental review within their State, and within the Federal laws, and then we would look at it, as well.
But now, Mr. Chairman, it just takes too long to go through the process, and our team would be there in the State working with the State.
Mr. BOEHLERT. I understand. And you indicated you're going to have some suggestions for revision to the Stafford Act.
Mr. WITT. Yes.
Mr. BOEHLERT. I look forward to receiving your suggestions and working cooperatively with you.
Mr. MASCARA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Witt, good to see you again. I'd like to commend you for the excellent job you're doing and the President's choice of you. You were in former local government, is that correct, from
Mr. WITT. County judge for 10 years, Congressman. Yes, sir.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MASCARA. So then we have something in common. I served as a county commissioner in Washington County, Pennsylvania, and my District contains three riversthe Monongahela, the Allegheny, and the Ohioso I'm very familiar with problems associated with flooding.
My question is thisit's my understanding that the Corps will be restoring some damaged flood areas to a level of 25 years less than what it was originally assured that it would cover. So my question is this: do you have a seat at the table when these decisions are made with the Corps as they're trying to repair damage or restore areas that have been flooded?
Mr. WITT. We work with the Corps very closely, and the Corps has been a tremendous partner with us in everything that we've been able to do.
General Fuhrman, who is here today, is, I think, a tremendous asset for the Corps of Engineers in this country.
We do work with the Corps in emergency repairs. I'll go to the Corps and ask if this was something that we needed funded because of a flood fight or emergency repair, so we work very close with them.
As far as the Corps reducing a 25-year level, we're not involved in that.
Mr. MASCARA. I'm sure that question would be more appropriate for the general, but I was just wondering whether or not FEMA has a seat at the table, and do people from HUD and FEMA and the Corps sit down to talk about the problems around the country?
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Mr. WITT. Yes, sir. The Office of Management and Budget now has created an inter-agency task force, which the Corps of Engineers are leading particularly in California now, looking at the levees in California.
We have a seat at the table working with them.
Mr. MASCARA. Thank you very much, Director.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Mrs. Emerson?
Mrs. EMERSON. Mr. Witt, thank you for being here today. I know you've been to my District in Missouri on several occasions, as well.
Mr. WITT. Yes.
Mrs. EMERSON. It's right next to Arkansas.
Anyway, I wanted to follow up on something that you had talked about regarding trying to prevent disasters from happening.
I know that FEMA has in the past assisted other communities with building levees or building up, strengthening their levees, and I wanted to know what you believed your role should be in helping to repair or strengthen levees, particularly when communities might not be able to afford their cost share of that.
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Mr. WITT. The levee policy that FEMA has in place I think probably covers, to the extent as much as FEMA should be involved in the levee business. We're not the experts on the levee business. The Corps of Engineers
Mrs. EMERSON. Right.
Mr. WITT. So what we fund on public levees is flood fighting or debris clearance or emergency repairs that the Corps says to us that needs to be done.
Also, when we do fund emergency repairs on a levee up to a 5-year protection level, then they are required to have either joined the Natural Resource Conservation Service levee program or the Corps of Engineers levee program.
Mrs. EMERSON. So that, for example, when Mr. Thune's snow melts and comes down to our District, we've got some levees that really need to be strengthened because we've got an enormous disaster which ends up closing off a lot of our interstate highways coming way down into Arkansas.
Could we deem that to be an emergency repair that perhaps we could encourage FEMA to help get involved with, with the Corps leading the way?
Mr. WITT. If it is a Corps' leveemy understanding is that if it's a Corps of Engineers' levee or if it's a Natural Resource Conservation Service levee, then they have the authorization to make repairs.
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Mrs. EMERSON. Okay.
Mr. WITT. But also let me say a lot of communities that Iyou know, when in was in local government, as well as State and Federal, a lot of communities have local levee boards. Local levee boards in our State when I was there would basically tax themselves so much per acre, particularly of farm land, to make sure that those levees were maintained and the repairs were kept up and the flood gates would operate, and many times I have seen that levees deteriorate because levee boards do not meet or local levees are not maintained.
Mrs. EMERSON. Well, that is true, and I know that our levee boards have worked closely with your levee boards, but I think perhaps there are other circumstances that are involved
Mr. WITT. Yes.
Mrs. EMERSON.which are keeping our levees from being rebuilt.
Mr. WITT. Absolutely.
Mrs. EMERSON. Thank you.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much.
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Mr. BATEMAN. I'll pass.
Mr. BOEHLERT. All right. Mr. Horn, you had another question you wanted to ask?
Mr. HORN. Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Administrator.
I gave Mr. Witt a chartand I think most Members have itCalifornia flood vulnerability as of March 1997. I simply want to reference it while the administrator is here. I will pursue most of that with the Corps of Engineers.
But as we think of preventive measures to take and we look at this potential tragedyand I don't want to in any way diminish what has happened in northern California. It's unbelievable and the question our colleague, Mrs. Emerson, was asking and I was asking is exactly the situation we need to deal with on a lot of these levees. And if we can recognize it as a Federal responsibility, it's going to save us a lot of grief later.
But in this case we're talking about comparing that little red space known as Los Angeles County on the Los Angeles Riverwe're talking about 82 square miles impacted versus the 290 square miles in northern California, but one-half million people are impacted compared to the 129,000 in northern California; 177,000 structures are impacted, compared to 18,500.
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While they were devastated probably at many more than $1.5 billion now estimatedit will probably be higherLos Angeles estimates $2.3 billion in damages if the rainfall was exactly like it was in northern California.
So we have weaknesses not only there but all over the Nation, as we know just from the questions of our colleagues, and we need, as you suggest, Mr. Witt, a proactive policy to get at these things while we have time, because it could be starting to flood now some place in America that you will be flying off to.
And so we get down to a real dose of preventive medicine that is needed here.
Mr. WITT. Congressman, I wholeheartedly agree.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much.
Mr. RIGGS. Mr. Chairman, I just walked in, and I have to apologize to you and our colleagues for missing the earlier testimony and I guess I understand the introduction at the short organizational meeting which preceded the hearing, for which I thank you. I was testifying elsewhere.
But while we have a director here, let me just say thisand I promise I won't mention any DSRs in my Congressional District, but I do hope that we can put more of an emphasis on hazard mitigation. I intend to look very carefully at that part of your testimony, Mr. Director, because I think that is the way to go.
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I'll reserve my other remarks, which have to do more with the appropriateness of development in this general Sacramento Valley area, much of which I think would be rightly consideredand don't get me wrong, because I am pro-development, but rightly considered to be flood plain. I'll address those to later panels.
But, Mr. Director, do you want to comment very briefly just on the emphasis on hazard mitigation and how it would apply, particularly in this area of northern California where, as you well know, we experience these recurring floods, it seems in recent years, every other year?
Mr. WITT. Congressman, I think it's very, very important, and I think we have documented it very well, that every dollar we spend on prevention and mitigation we save two dollars in future cost to the taxpayers. And you can just imagine the frustration and the lives it would save.
This recent flood we've had in the midwest and the tornadoes, there were 59 fatalities.
So it's important that all of us together focus and try to support the mitigation efforts and preventive measures that we all can identify very easily that we could do together, but it takes a Federal, State, and business partnership and all of us working together to make that happen.
Mr. RIGGS. How would you envision hazard mitigation funds being used in this area of northern California?
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Mr. WITT. The State of California has a very good Office of Emergency Services. They have some very good people working in that and have done some really good things in mitigation, particularly in the retrofitting for earthquakes in California.
We can provide the mitigation dollars. The State that the disaster has affected, it's their responsibility, working with local government and prioritizing what mitigation projects they want to fund.
Mr. RIGGS. So in the case of California, that would be the Office of Emergency Services?
Mr. WITT. Yes, sir.
Mr. RIGGS. Working with local government?
Mr. WITT. Yes, sir.
Mr. RIGGS. Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you.
Mr. Director, before you leave I have one question that a friend of mine, Governor Wilson, has asked me if I would direct your way.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It's my understanding that on January 17th the governor asked for FEMA assistance in pumping out ponded water behind levees, water that may cause further levee breaks. When might FEMA respond to the governor?
Mr. WITT. Our staff has been working with the Office of Emergency Services in California on this issue, and they have a task force that is physically working now with them and the Corps of Engineers.
The pumping that the governor has aggressively done in the areas of the farm land, private property, I applaud the governor for doing that.
They asked me whether we could fund pumping. I sent a team outthe Corps of Engineers was part of this team, the State Office of Emergency was part of this team, and FEMAto look at whether or not it was an eligible project, whether there was an endangerment of public health and safety if the pumping was not done, if there was a danger of breaching levees because eroding of saturated levees, water standing, would cause serious public safety problems in communities, as well as health problems, if that was a problem.
And the team that came back on that said that it was mostly farm land and it was not an eligible project for FEMA, so we are working in preparing a report back to the governor.
Mr. BOEHLERT. So I can tell the governor there will be a timely response?
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WITT. Yes, sir.
Mr. BOEHLERT. We're talking days rather than weeks?
Mr. WITT. Yes, sir.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Okay. Fine. You don't always get the answer you want, but what you do want is an answer, so I can understand that.
Mr. WITT. Yes, sir.
Mr. BOEHLERT. We will have additional questions that we will submit to you in writing and would appreciate your usual cooperation in having timely responses.
[The information follows:]
Mr. BOEHLERT. With that, I want to thank you for your appearance this morning. I want to thank you for the good work your agency is doing. Keep up the good work.
Mr. WITT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. The next panel, panel three, is additional Federal witnesses consisting of: Major General Russell Fuhrman, who is the Director of Civil Works for the Corps, accompanied by Brigadier General Richard Capka, who is the Commander of the South Pacific Division; Mr. Warren Lee, Director, Watersheds and Wetlands for the Natural Resources Conservation Service; and Gerry Jackson, Deputy Assistant Director, Ecological Services, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, accompanied by Mr. Wayne White, who is field supervisor for the service out of Sacramento, California; and, finally, Mr. Lacy Suiter, Executive Associate Director, Response and Recovery Program, for FEMA.
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Gentlemen, welcome. General Fuhrman, you're up.
TESTIMONY OF MAJOR GENERAL RUSSELL L. FUHRMAN, DIRECTOR, CIVIL WORKS, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS, WASHINGTON, DC, ACCOMPANIED BY BRIGADIER GENERAL RICHARD CAPKA, COMMANDER, SOUTH PACIFIC DIVISION, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS, SAN FRANCISCO, CA; WARREN M. LEE, DIRECTOR, WATERSHEDS AND WETLANDS, NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, WASHINGTON, DC; GERRY A. JACKSON, DEPUTY ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, ECOLOGICAL SERVICES, U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, WASHINGTON, DC, ACCOMPANIED BY WAYNE WHITE, FIELD SUPERVISOR, SACRAMENTO, CA; AND LACY SUITER, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, RESPONSE AND RECOVERY PROGRAM, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, WASHINGTON, DC
General FUHRMAN. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I am General Russ Fuhrman, Director of Civil Works Army Corps of Engineers, and accompanying me today is General Rick Capka, commander of the South Pacific Division headquartered in San Francisco, California.
Presently, the Army Corps of Engineers is actively engaged in flood preparedness, flood fighting, and post-flood recovery operations across the country. As of today, the Corps has over 650 personnel directly engaged in these operations. Over 180 personnel from our South Pacific Division and our North Pacific Division are devoted to post-flood recovery and levee rehabilitation activities on the west coast.
We also have over 350 people actively engaged in flood response on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and approximately 100 personnel involved in preparedness activities in the upper midwest.
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We have spent approximately $62 million so far on these efforts.
The Flood Control Act of 1917 provided for a comprehensive flood control system for the Central Valley of California that incorporated previously-constructed local levees into the Federal project of Corps-built levees. In many cases, these locally-built levees were not designed to the high standards of Corps' levees.
The local sponsor for this 1,700-mile levee system is the California Reclamation Board, which is responsible for the operations and maintenance.
When one of these levees is damaged in a flood event, its repair is a Federal cost with the sponsor providing lands, easements, rights-of-way, and borrow material.
There are also hundreds of miles of other levees in the Central Valley that do not meet Corps' standards and are not eligible for Corps assistance for repairs when damaged in a flood event.
During this recent flood, the flood control system within California functioned the way it was designed to operate. It prevented an estimated $1.8 billion in damages that otherwise would have occurred had it not been there.
I am pleased to report that the Corps of Engineers undertook a very proactive approach to our flood-fighting and long-term recovery activities in the region. We exercised all available authorities to expedite the reinforcement of threatened levees and to close breaches in levees. We used emergency contracting procedures to issue letter contracts which resulted in contracts being awarded in a matter of hours.
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Early in the flood event, the South Pacific Division established an internal task force to look at an orderly approach to follow on once the immediate flood fight was complete. The task force has worked effectively, in close cooperation with the California Department of Water Resources, and arrived at a work plan that would ensure that the State's most serious problems are handled in the proper sequence.
The Corps has developed a four-phased plan which addresses the flood problem to the flood fight to the long-term recovery.
Phase one was the emergency response piece.
Phase two is the initial recovery to the 25-year level of protection that was mentioned earlier. The purpose of this is to quickly provide some protection to get us through the remainder of this flood season.
The phase three work is the final restoration to the pre-flood level of protection. Our target is to complete this phase prior to the next flood season. As part of this effort we will look hard at alternatives to flood plain uses, in addition to levee rehabilitation.
Our phase four is the basin-wide comprehensive study that has been mentioned a couple of times, of systems and their adequacy of protection.
The Administration recently issued guidance to agencies on flood plain management and procedures for evaluation and review of levee repair and associated restoration projects. This guidance represents a change from the traditional practice of automatically rebuilding exactly what was lost in the flood event.
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Recovery must now take a longer-term view of flood plain management and recognize that in many cases the wisest choice is not to rebuild what was there before but to perhaps move development out of the flood plain.
There are certainly many examples where replacing levees to their original condition is the wisest choice, given the density and value of the land and structures being protected. However, in the future we will arrive at such conclusions only after having fully considered a range of alternatives, including non-structural ones and having consulted with involved agencies at all levels of Government, including State and local agencies.
The guidance established the inter-agency levee task forcethis was also mentioned by Mr. Wittto facilitate this coordination. It includes representatives from each Federal agency involved and appropriate State, tribal, and local agencies. General Capka, on my left, has been appointed the Corps lead for California.
Overall, we feel we have met the challenge presented by the flood of 1997 and are aggressively pursuing the reestablishment of the flood damage reduction system in northern California.
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, this concludes my statement. We'll be prepared to answer your questions.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, General. Let me stress that your statements in their entirety will appear in the record. We do appreciate any ability you might evidence to capsulize in 5 minutes or so what you want to say.
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Mr. LEE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I'm Warren Lee, the director of the Watersheds and Wetlands Division. I have a responsibility for our emergency watershed program within USDA.
Before I begin, Dr. Herschel Reed, who is our State conservationist in California, had planned to be here this morning to come before this committee and share his personal comments, but the flu bug got him and thus he was not able to be here.
Others have described the climatic events which led up to this flood. Let me share some of the impacts affecting the agricultural community.
The series of storms surrounding this flood had a significant impact on the agricultural communitythe damages associated with the flood are estimated to exceed $245 million59,000 acres of crop land have been lost, and 95,000 acres of additional crop land have been damaged, with estimates exceeding $90 million. The primary crops damaged include basically your orchard crops, walnuts, nursery, plus alfalfa, livestock and dairy, and many other varieties of specialty crops.
Many of the flooded areas are still under water. Water has become impounded behind the levees with no place to go.
If these areas are not dried out by the time the trees bud, the trees, themselves, may be lost, causing much greater-term and more expensive loss.
Most of the orchards which remain threatened are used to produce walnuts, peaches, apricots, apples, olives, etc. If it is necessary to replace these trees and vines, most varieties will take from seven to ten years to begin producing.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The NRCS in California has received over 100 requests for assistance to address flooding problems in streams, tributaries, and the smaller rivers that have been impaired as a result of the floods.
Of existing EWP funding, $2.1 million was spent addressing 36 projects that posed the most threat to life or property. Officials are concerned that an appropriate level of protection for all of California waterways be restored by November 1, the beginning of the predicted rainy season.
Let me give you some examples of work we've completed in California. Using existing funds in the Deer Creek area of Butte County, six separate levee breaks were repaired under an EWP project to protect the town of Yountville from additional floods this season. This effort protected approximately 125 homes.
In Napa County, there was emergency work on five sites along the Napa River levee, preventing flooding in the town of Yountville.
Other projects have been quickly installed to protect homes, public utilities, business, and agricultural infrastructure from imminent danger.
In each of these projects, NRCS has the support of a local sponsor that provides 25 percent of the cost of the projects and agrees to maintain them.
In addition to the emergency watershed program assistance, which provides assistance to groups and public entities, we provide technical assistance for the emergency conservation program administered by the Farm Services Agency.
ECP is available to local individuals to address damages on crop land by removing debris and sediment and restoring crop land to the pre-flood condition.
USDA has received requests for ECP assistance in at least 20 counties in California.
For both the emergency watershed program and the emergency conservation program, the Administration is working closely with affected agencies to determine the damage needs, the estimated resources to meet them, and any need for emergency supplementing funds.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Administration has recently sentI believe last nighta detailed supplemental request for funding.
The lessons of the 1993 flood were hard won. The Administration's flood plain strategy goals are to share responsibility for flood plain management at all levels of government; to act sequentially to avoid, minimize, and mitigate flood and flood plain damages; and to organize better government responses to floods and flood plain needs.
As a result, in a February 18 memo to agencies, the director of OMB and the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality issued guidance on flood plain management and procedures for evaluation and repair of levees. Rebuilding and recovery is now reviewed within a longer-term context of flood plain management.
Let me reflect back to the 1993 flood. One of the provisions that NRCS had at that time was the authority to purchase what we called ''emergency wetland reserve program easements'' for damages that were caused by that flood. Since that time, we've purchased nearly 80,000 acres from willing sellers. In some cases entire levee districts were abolished and that area now is serving as its original flood plain aspect.
NRCS is implementing this new strategy, reflecting the Government's interest in being efficient, fair, and responsive.
Under the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996, the Secretary of Agriculture has the authority now to purchase flood plain easements under the emergency watershed program nationwide. This new authority provides an opportunity to purchase easements when the long-term economic, social, and environmental benefits of purchasing the easement are greater than the cost of repeated repairs to the same land. Where willing sellers are available, procurement of easements on this land will provide a more permanent solution.
Mr. Chairman, in essence of time I will cut my remarks and say that NRCS did respond with all available resources. We met the needs of the local communities within the jurisdiction that we have.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you for the opportunity to be here.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much. I do appreciate your consideration.
Finally, Mr. Jackson.
Mr. JACKSON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to be here today to discuss the recent flooding which has taken place in California.
As you mentioned, I am accompanied by Mr. Wayne White, who is supervisor of the Fish and Wildlife Service field office in Sacramento, California, and would be available to answer any specific questions as they may occur.
Mr. Chairman, the Fish and Wildlife Service is taking all measures necessary to expedite disaster response actions, including exercising our existing authorities under the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act and the Endangered Species Act, to ensure that disaster response is not delayed as a result of fish and wildlife conservation actions.
In January of this year, the Service implemented the disaster provisions of the Endangered Species Act regulations for the California counties that we declared disaster areas.
These provisions allowed disaster response measures to be implemented immediately in the face of flooding without prior consultation with the Service.
In addition, on February the 19th of this year the Service issued a policy statement further clarifying and articulating our flood policy. The purpose of the policy statement was to provide clear guidance to Service personnel, to address the concerns expressed by disaster response agencies and local residents, and to reiterate that Fish and Wildlife conservation efforts would not hinder emergency flood response actions necessary to protect human lives and property.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This policy statement outlined the procedures that Service personnel will follow in evaluating the impacts from short-term repair of flood control facilities.
It was the Service's intention to make clear that any repair and replacement of a facility that serves a public purpose and is necessary to prevent the occurrence of such a natural disaster and to reduce potential loss of human life may proceed unimpeded, as long as the damaged facilities are repaired or replaced to substantially the same conditions as existed before the flood.
Mr. Chairman, I wanted to emphasize that the Fish and Wildlife Service did not reinterpret the Endangered Species Act or the regulations to exempt certain activities with flood response. We simply implemented the emergency provisions of section seven of the act and its regulations to address the immediate needs of the communities affected by the flood. This is standard procedure across the country in the wake of any disaster.
Regarding flood plain management, the Fish and Wildlife Service has both a short-term and a long-term approach. Our short-term goal is to achieve a rapid and effective response to damaged flood and flood plain management systems that will minimize the risks to life and property. The long-term goal of the Service is to work to develop cost-effective approaches to reducing future flood damages that are consistent with the need to protect important environmental and natural resource values that are inherent to the flood plain and adjacent lands.
We will continue to work cooperatively with Federal and State agencies, local communities, water management districts, and concerned citizens to examine long-term flood damage reduction measures.
Our hope is to achieve a flood control system that is based on reducing flood damages through cost-effective and, where appropriate, non-structural alternatives, while avoiding unwise development in the flood plain.
I'd like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Service, to commend this committee and the 104th Congress for passing the Water Resources Development Act of 1996. This legislation includes provisions that authorized the Corps to begin analyzing potential non-structural alternatives to reducing future flood damages.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We believe the flood control systems of the future will depend on developing and implementing diversified approaches, including non-structural alternatives that take advantage of physical structures such as dams and levees, plus the natural and beneficial uses of flood plains to avoid damages and unwise development in flood-prone areas.
The Service looks forward to working with this committee and the Corps to address these opportunities and these challenges.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, we know that this will not be the last disaster that will affect human lives and property; therefore, I want to assure you that we are committed to continually improving our capability to respond to the needs of affected communities, businesses, and local residents before, during, and after natural disasters of all types.
We look forward to working with the committee to improve Federal disaster response, particularly the devastating floods that continue to affect our homes and our communities throughout this Nation.
We thank you for this opportunity and welcome any questions that you may have.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you, Mr. Jackson.
Mr. Suiter, I know you're here as a resource for this panel. Did you have any statement you care to make?
Mr. SUITER. I don't believe I could improve on the director's statement. Thank you.
Mr. BOEHLERT. You're a diplomat.
Mr. BOEHLERT. General Fuhrman, you heard what the director has said about pumping the impounded flood water, and you know about the governor's interest in getting an answer to the letter he directed to Mr. Witt. Do you currently have, in your view, sufficient authority, or do you need more authority in order to pump impounded flood waters behind a levee breach?
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC General FUHRMAN. The only authority that I have, Mr. Chairman, to pump impounded flood waters is during the emergency flood-fighting phase of the operation. Beyond that I do not have authority.
Mr. BOEHLERT. You do not have authority. Okay. Do you want the authority?
Mr. BOEHLERT. Do you want to pass on that one?
General FUHRMAN. I'll pass on that one.
Mr. BOEHLERT. After the 1986 flood, the Corps was directed to undertake the repair of the entire levee system in the Sacramento Basin flood control project. One of the levees that breached was one on the Feather River that was scheduled for repair and upgrade in 1998.
How many other levees in the system have not been reconstructed or repaired since the 1986 flood that might now be at risk? Do you have any estimate, a number? A few?
General FUHRMAN. I'll defer to the division commander on that one.
Mr. BOEHLERT. General?
General CAPKA. Mr. Chairman, after the 1986 floods, the Corps of Engineers undertook a study of the levees in the Sacramento Basin.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Right.
General CAPKA. And we have a five-phased project in order to handle the more than $100 million worth of upgrades that were deemed appropriate.
Of that, we've had funds appropriated for more than half, close to 60 percent of the work, and the work in the Sacramento area, a populated and developed region, was completed.
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We've now moved to the Yuba City, the Marysville area, and we have three other phases after that to complete.
But I would say we've completed more than 50 percent of that.
Mr. BOEHLERT. So you know what needs to be done; it's just time and money?
General CAPKA. Time and money. That's correct.
Mr. BOEHLERT. That's the old problem.
General CAPKA. Yes, sir.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Mr. Lee, what do you estimate will be the difference in cost between the proposed non-structural alternatives and a more traditional structural approach?
Mr. LEE. Our experience following the 1993 flood when we purchased Emergency Wetland Reserve Program Easements on 80,000-plus acresindicated the costs were equal to basically or less when considering the projected long-term costs. We had to cross that threshold first. If the cost to repair the damage and recover the land, remove the sediment, etc., was greater than the cost to actually build a levee up. That's when we purchased the easements from willing sellers.
So we believe, in many cases, that we can have a long-term solution equal to the cost of repairing the levee.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Okay. Fine. What I'm going to do now is turn to Mr. Mascara.
Mr. MASCARA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I think you answered my question about the 25-year level of flood protectionthat that's temporary.
General FUHRMAN. Yes, sir.
Page 71 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MASCARA. Because in some instances that was less than what the original design was made for.
Before I ask the question, I would want to refer you to page three of your testimony and the role of the Corps in operating its facilities. I see you mentioned, at least on three occasions that I can see, about locally-constructed levees, local sponsor for these levee systems, and the responsibility to a local reclamation district.
It appears to meand I don't mean to be contentiousthat somehow this might appear to be a Pontius Pilate, that somehow, although you're involved at this point and you gave us a good historicalmaybe it was hysterical, I don't knowon the Flood Control Act of 1917 and took us back in time so that we might understand the problems associated with the flooding, some local and State officials assert that the severity of the flooding was perhaps worse than it had to be because of the inadequate maintenance of the levees.
From what I glean here from your statement on page three about being a local problemI mean, how do you reconcile? It almost sounds like an oxymoron, that there's an internal contradiction here about who is responsible and who should pay forand does your budget allow you to do those kinds of things?
General FUHRMAN. Sir, let me first say that within the levee system, we view ourselves as partners with the State and the locals in operating that levee system and working all the issues associated with it, and don't mean to imply that there's a local/Federal divide there. I think the working relationship is outstanding.
But when it comes to the daily maintenance and operation of the levees, that is a local responsibility as far as shrubbery removal and the mowing and upkeep of the grass and those sorts of things.
So if there are issues with regard to environmental-type or endangered species associated with the ability to do that, I would defer to the State of California and the folks that are responsible for that to answer that question.
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MASCARA. In your opinion, do you think the State and local governments spent a sufficient amount of money to maintain these levees? Or do you have access to that information?
General FUHRMAN. I do not have access to that information, but I think it's fair to say that they suffer the same budget crunch that we all do and that they would like to spend a lot more than they do, as I would like to spend a lot more than I do on a number of our systems.
Mr. MASCARA. As I indicated earlier, I'm from southwestern Pennsylvania and have three rivers where I live, and on the Monongahela we have three dams, and there is a $650 million project there. There have been cuts. One dam is near failure and could cause some very serious problems.
Are the cuts too dramatic to deal with problems, not only in California but in Pennsylvania and other areas around the country?
General FUHRMAN. As it is with anything, whether you're talking infrastructure in our cities or infrastructure in our flood control and navigation project, it's a challenge for us in these times, given the age of many of these systems, to make smart decisions and find the right economies out there to continue to maintain those in operation in safe standard.
We believe we are doing that and doing a good job of it, but it's a challenge.
Mr. WISE. Would the gentleman yield just for one second?
Mr. MASCARA. Yes.
Mr. WISE. I think what the general is saying nicely is it's time for capital budgeting. I just throw that in, Mr. Mascara.
Mr. MASCARA. Thank you. And I'm a co-sponsor, so I agree with my colleague, Mr. Wise.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Would anybody else want to chime in as it relates to local and State efforts in maintaining these levees? Had we done a better job, could we have avoided some of the problems associated with this flooding? Could it have been less dramatic?
Mr. MASCARA. I guess not. You did everything possible to avoid the damage.
Mr. LEE. I guess I think the obvious answer to that is yes, there are cases where improper levee maintenance has obviously aggravated levee stability. Gopher holes and tree roots and those kinds of things soon become paths for flood water to flow through. So the answer is yes.
Could we or the States have done a better job? Again, as the general indicated, there is conflicting need for those scarce dollars for everything.
Mr. MASCARA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, gentlemen.
Mr. HORN [assuming Chair]. Thank you very much.
The next in order, based on the chairman's list, is myself, so Let me pursue a couple of questions.
The Corpsyou heard me mention with Director Witt this chart, California flood vulnerability. Without objection, that's going to be put in the record at this point.
[The information follows:]
Mr. HORN. I think all of us on this committee, regardless of party, want to see every authority that the agencies represented here have stretched to its absolute limit to solve these problems, and you heard a lot of emphasis from a number of us on both sides on the need for mitigation but pre-disaster efforts.
Page 74 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This chart sort of reflects that, and I'd just like to sum it up that if we had a similar storm hit in southern California, exactly the same as it was a number of inches in the north, the area under a third as large as the impacted area that you see in northern Californianamely, Los Angeles Countya half a million people would be impacted, 177,000 structures would be impacted, and an estimated $2.3 billion in damages would occur.
So my question to the Corps is: what is the Corps of Engineers doing to prevent the same tragedy that has struck northern California from hitting the south? What are you doing in terms of works?
Let's take, as an example, LACDA, the Los Angeles County Drainage District project. Just to get on the record, what dollar amount did the Corps request for LACDA in the budget that the President submitted?
General FUHRMAN. I'll defer the question on what we're doing to General Capka.
General CAPKA. Mr. Horn, you're absolutely right. We do have concerns and flood control interest in the Los Angeles area. You've mentioned LACDA. We also have the Santa Ana River project and the attendant work there.
While I don't have the specific figures in front of meand I will provide that for the record
Mr. HORN. Do you remember approximately what it was?
General CAPKA. No, sir, I don't. I will have to provide that for the record.
Mr. HORN. It will be in the record at this point.
[The information received follows:]
The amount of money the Corps requested in its budget submission to the Office of Management and Budget for the Los Angeles County Drainage Area (LACDA) project was $45,000,000. The 1998 budget the President submitted to the Congress requested $11,700,000 for LACDA.
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Mr. HORN. What was submitted by OMB was $11 million, which is totally inadequate for that system. If this flood situation continues over the next year or two, you're liable to havefrankly, $2.3 billion is probably an under-estimate. This was prepared, this chart, by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, which is the partner on this project with the Corps in seeing that it's developed.
What funds are needed, do you know, to obtain sufficient construction so mandatory flood insurance is not imposed on the thousands of residents along the river?
As I mentioned to Mr. Witt, hundreds of millions of dollars would be taken from this area if the axe came down on mandatory flood insurance, when maybe only $100 million is needed to solve the problem.
He, himself, mentioned, when mayors have come in and pointed out the same situation nationwide in this area, the flood insurance is a fine idea, but the first order of business ought to be to do the preventive things that would avoid having to use flood insurance.
It's a lot cheaper to do it up front on the preventive side than it is to take hundreds of millions of dollars out of an economy.
In the case of southern California, Los Angeles, it is an economy that has not recovered yet from the recession starting in March of 1988 when 400,000 aerospace workers were let go over the next couple of years.
So do you have any reaction to that as to what funds are needed to attain specific construction?
General CAPKA. Sir, what we have done with the budget ceiling we were givenand certainly the budget ceiling reflects the Administration's goal of achieving a balanced budget in the year 2002but what we've done is we have allocated that budget ceiling to ensure that all construction projects proceed, so we do not have to stop work in the middle of a project.
Page 76 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC However, I do not have enough funds, specifically for the Los Angeles County drainage area project or the Santa Ana, to construct at the optimum schedule, which I think is what you're referring to.
Mr. HORN. Right.
General CAPKA. How quickly could we do it? I would certainly need a lot more money in order to construct at the optimum schedule.
Mr. HORN. Let us get the figure in the record
General CAPKA. I will.
Mr. HORN.on both LACDA and Santa Ana, what is the optimum level the Corps could absorb in its annual construction program, and then what did you recommend to OMB? And put in what OMB recommended in the name of the President to the Congress. We need that laid out on the record because it will show, I think, that we're not doing enough on the construction side.
[The information follows:]
Mr. HORN. In the meantime, we face the axe of mandatory flood insurance which will, frankly, be the greatest hit on any community since Hiroshima. That's what it gets down to. And the damages will be unbelievable.
And, of course, I'd like to know, does the Corps have a priority schedule based on the effect on people as a way to figure out which projects get how much money?
General FUHRMAN. Are you talking about in the priorities of restoration or holistically overall projects, sir?
Mr. HORN. No. The priorities on construction. To what point does the number of people affected should something go wrong on the 100-year flood criterion or even the 200-year, that you take into account in the case of northern California the number impacted in that type of situation, the southern California. Sacramento is very much like the southern California situation.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Do you count people before saying, ''Well, let's put several million in here this year''? Does it matter as to, if things go sour, the number of people that are affected?
General FUHRMAN. Congressman, it certainly does. The number and the severity of the possibility of a failure plays a very key role, along with a number of other issues, but a very, very key role in determining prioritization of resources.
Mr. HORN. For the record, let's get the figures for the Sacramento project, which has been going for a number of years, much similar to the southern California projects, for the LACDA project, and the Santa Ana project. And the staff might want to add on both sides some more, just to make it a comparison sheet. What's the amount of work the Corps can absorb in one year, two years, three years? What did they recommend? And what was recommended in the President's budget? Just lay out a nice comparison chart in your judgment as to the number of people.
[The information follows:]
Mr. HORN. We now have the gentleman from West Virginia, Mr. Wise, who is recognized.
Mr. WISE. I thank the gentleman. I might just note, you brought up a very, very important issue dealing with the manner in which the Corps is required to score projects, and the directive from OMB to the Corps of Engineers will just about make it impossible to do any kind of significant construction in this country.
I think I calculated, with what the Corps is allocated, that they'll get about one project a year underway, and that's why I might say a number of us, on a bipartisan basis on this committee, are circulating a letter to Chairman Kasich and also the Appropriations Committee asking them not to abide by the OMB concept.
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The General obviously can't comment on this. He must represent the Administration policy. But I just think that this goes exactly in the opposite direction of what we're trying to do in this country.
If we're trying to promote growth, if we're trying to build projects that are necessary, whether for economic growth or, as I'm about to talk to the general about, for flood prevention and control, we can't have a fiscal policy that frustrates that.
What this would require, as I understand it, is essentially you've got to have everything in hand in order to be getting a start. It does not permit for incremental funding year-by-year as opposed to you have to have it banked.
So in the case of whether it's a $229 million Marmet project which is necessary for commerce, or whether it's a flood control project, you have to have it in hand.
The reality is that with your budget you'll get one project started a year, and all the rest of us are going to stand in line waiting, waiting, waiting, and so there's a real need.
This is capital budgeting turned on its ear, and so there is a real need to do something about it.
That was my ad hominem comment.
General Fuhrman, I want to first thank you very much. You and the Vice President and James Lee Witt were in West Virginia, I believe, on the 2nd day of the flooding. Your presence was a morale booster. Even more significantly, your observation and personal action following that2 days later West Virginia did get the Federal disaster declaration for individual assistance, and we were just approved for public assistance the other day.
So that means in the 16 counties in West Virginia, at least, we're beginning to recover, and I thank you and the efforts of the Corps, particularly the Huntington district, which has been very, very helpful in the Ohio Valley situation.
Page 79 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Let me bring up something that I brought up in the past with Mr. Witt, and indeed when he revisited West Virginia we talked about it at great length, and that is the issue of mitigation and what can be done.
The fact of the matter is I don't know what you have expended during this flood in West Virginia, but in the four floods last year in West Virginia FEMA has expended $80 million to date. My observation is that this year, with this last flood just last week, FEMA will expend a minimum of $20 million and probably as high as $40 million. The devastation was even worse than anticipated.
The reality then is that in a little over a year we've spent $120 million of Federal taxpayers' funds in West Virginia, and that essentially is just to put people back and to try and restore a situation when, for a significantly less amount, we could have made a capital investment and done something about mitigation.
Now, following last year, in the third flood, I believe, I convened five meetings, and what I did was to try and bring together every agency that was involved in flood prevention and flood control.
I was just making a quick note. I don't have them all, but it included: Natural Resource Construction Service with the United States Department of Agriculture, the Army Corps of Engineers, United States Geological Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and FEMA. On the State side there was the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Natural Resources, the Office of Emergency Services, the West Virginia National Guard, the West Virginia Department of Highways, and the West Virginia Soil Conservation Service. I've forgotten and left out the Federal EPA.
In every meeting I had somebody else that raised their hand and said, ''I should be here, too.''
I appreciate very much the Corps' participation in those meetings. What we were trying to do was to sit down, identify what the problems were in each county, and then put together a priority list. And that process needs to continue, but it needs to continue even more. It needs to continue because we don't have enough resources, as you've just testified, and also as I look at the USDAUnited States Department of Agriculturebudget, we don't have enough resources in order to do what needs to be done. Therefore, we have to prioritize.
Page 80 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I would make this personal request to you. As I said, I appreciate very much the participation by the Corps of Engineers at every one of our meetings. My District actually is served by three districts. My Congressional District is served by the Huntington District, the Pittsburgh District, and the Baltimore District. We appreciate their participation.
But I noticed something, and so what I would first ask iswhen we bring these groups back together, if the Corps of Engineers would continue to be a very active participant, but even to go beyond that, to look for ways that we can expand across agency and jurisdictional lines.
Often there is overlapping jurisdiction between the Corps of Engineers and USDA and what they can do. Is there a way that we can actually divide up responsibilityone works on this project, one works on this project? Is there a way that we can do joint applications or joint permitting?
And so what I would request is, first of all, if you and the Corps have looked at ways of reducing these barriers, and whether we could work with you.
Second is that you would look at making West Virginiawe're a small State, but one that sure has been hit hard, and repeatedlya trial State in this.
If I have any time left, I'd ask if you might comment briefly on what efforts are underway in that regard and what we can look forward to.
General FUHRMAN. Congressman, I fully agree with what you said with regard to the agencies working together. I think what you're seeing happening in California with the creation out of the White House of this inter-agency levee task force is a good start for that. The Corps is taking a very, very active role in the taskforce, and General Capka will be heading up our effort on that.
It's an effort to bring everyone together to the table at the front end to greatly reduce the bureaucracy, lay the issues out on the table early on, come to an agreement and then get on with solutions.
Page 81 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So, from my perspective, I am very positive about the direction we're going, and we ought to be applying the same principles to West Virginia and everywhere that we go back in and address these restoration efforts.
Mr. WISE. Thank you. And I just mention to the Chair, in my Stateand this follows up on the Chair's observation. In my State, alone, $120 million has been spent in the last 15 months on putting people back or trying to dig them out, when for a fraction of that cost we could have had honest to goodness flood prevention and mitigation in many areas that would have averted those dollars, and averted them year after year after year.
I look forward to working with the Chair on doing something about that.
Mr. HORN. Well, the gentleman, with his usual eloquence, has obviously hit a target that a lot of us agree with.
I'm reminded that three of us from the full committee went down on a survey in the spring on drug activity in the Panama Canal, Puerto Rico, and so forth. It's rather interesting what they're doing in trying to get a similar number of agencies that my colleague from West Virginia did, to get them all in a room on a regular basis, and it has been a lot to increase focus on the ultimate objective by getting the relevant agencies in the room.
I'd say to my colleague perhaps the Government Management Subcommittee of the Government oversight group can follow up on this also if you're not satisfied with having enough people in the room to go beyond the scope of this committee, because it's an excellent suggestion I think that the gentleman has pursued.
I now yield to Mr. Thune, the distinguished Vice Chairman of the committee, the gentleman from South Dakota.
Mr. THUNE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to recognize the good work that the Corps has done in working, as well, with our State on a number of issues, not the least of which is the policy manual that governs the Missouri River, and that's an ongoing dialogue and one which we won't solve here today.
Page 82 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But just a couple of points, if I might, today. There are a couple of trouble spots, actually, in South Dakota, and one of which we will get into at a later time, and you have some people, I think, coming to our State next week to meet with some people from Pierre below the Oahe Dam. It has to do with flooding and sedimentation in the Missouri.
But the other issue has to do with the James River Basin. I have met withyour staff has been very helpful. Colonel Volz was up earlier this month to discuss that.
There are a number of things that have been suggested and have been agreed upon by both the James River Water Development District and people who live along the river in terms of solutions that would help the James not flow backwards and flood but actually flow downstream.
The problem, as it always isand has been alluded to earlier today herehas to do with money.
According to the Corps, the money doesn't exist to help mitigate this program.
There are some trees. The dead trees are eventually going to fall in the river and it's going to make this problem even moreit's going to worsen it.
And so there are some things that have been suggested which I think would address many of these issues, and I fully empathize with the problems with funding and the need to live within the limitations that the Administration, the Congress have placed upon us, and in the interest of a balanced budget those are going to be high concerns and priorities.
The question I guess I would have for you is as follows: could you explain how the Corps goes about prioritizing its various function and how those priorities are reflected in the internal allocation of funding in terms of from the various issues and flash points around the country, how you determine which are the priorities?
Page 83 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC General FUHRMAN. Are you referring to new project authorizations or operations and maintenance type of work, sir?
Mr. THUNE. I'm not so sure. I suppose perhaps both of you could address both. I'm not sure in which category this particular project would fall. My guess is it would probably be ait's an ongoing operation and maintenance thing, but it also might be characterized as a project.
General FUHRMAN. From an operations and maintenance perspective, holistically we provide our divisions and our districts, from a national perspective, with a pro rated share of those monies and look to them down where the rubber meets the road to make the hard decisions on what gets done, what doesn't get done, and what are unfinanced requirements that they come back up to headquarters and try to see if we can find some additional funds for.
With regard to new construction and new authorizations, it is a holistic view looking across the country at first of all which projects have gone through the feasibility stage and have hit all the bench marks to be ready to be authorized for construction. It includes in many cases, whether we have a sponsor with money if there is a cost-sharing piece to it, which in many cases is the largest challenge out thereto find that sponsor that has the money to be able to put up the non-Federal cost share.
And then it's hard decisions that have to be made on a variety of factors of who gets what starts when and how quickly we go at those starts.
Mr. THUNE. I appreciate that. It seems to me, of courseand I guess I would hope that in the James River Valley area that we can, if the cost share is the issue, get that issue addressed. We'd like to get this prioritized, because I think it's going to be major costs down the road for a lot of uslocal governments and individuals, as well as probably the Federal Governmentand in my judgment this is one of those areas where a little prevention would save us a lot of money in terms of a cure later on.
Page 84 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But we will continue to work with the Corps on that, and appreciate very much your help along the way already in terms of addressing upstream some of the issues that are hopefully going to mitigate some of the flooding downstream.
Thank you, General. And I thank the chairman.
Mr. HORN. I thank you. You're finished ahead of time.
The gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Poshard, is recognized.
Mr. POSHARD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I apologize for having arrived at the committee hearing late, and I don't have any questions at this point in time. I probably am going to have some questions that I will submit in writing.
But just by way of comments, I think I would like to say this: my District in Illinois has experienced both the Mississippi flood situation, now the Ohio River situation. We've had flooding along the Embra River, the Wabash River, and I think the Cascasky at one time. And in every case under every circumstance the FEMA people have come in very quickly, done a marvelous job of responding, and the Corps has been at every location where we have had any compromising of the integrity of our levee system, have given us good advice, repaired it or helped us repair it in a very expeditious and a very comprehensive way. They're doing that right now in some of the river communities along the southeastern edge of my District.
I'm not trying to patronize anybody. I give out my share of criticism to agencies out here, and we probably do need someI'm not totally familiar with the California situation. I'm certain we need some approaches there that may be more workable.
But I'll tell you, for my sense of things, these two agencies have worked well together. They have understood their appropriate roles and their cooperative roles in facing these situations. And I applaud them. They have, at least where I lived, I think been a deciding factor in saving a lot of lives and a lot of property that would not have been saved otherwise if these two agencies had not come to our help.
Page 85 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And so I just want to say that, Mr. Chairman, in passing because I think, you know, we work with the agencies out here and it's our responsibility for oversight, and so on. But, doggone it, there are times, too, when people need to know that they've done the right thing and done it well, and I want you to know that that's the way I feel about both agencies.
Mr. WISE. Would the gentleman yield?
Mr. POSHARD. Yes.
Mr. WISE. As the gentleman is so wont to do, he states it far more eloquently than I did, and I would also just like to echo his remarks.
Mr. HORN. The gentlewoman from Missouri, Mrs. Emerson, is recognized.
Mrs. EMERSON. General Fuhrman, hi. It's nice to see you again.
General FUHRMAN. Good seeing you again, ma'am.
Mrs. EMERSON. Thank you for being here.
I've got a question specifically leading back a little bit to what I had asked Mr. Witt. In Illinois, specifically the Miller City small levee, which is a private levee in Illinois across the river from my district, the FEMA funds went through the Illinois Department of Transportation to build up and to strengthen that particular levee.
Because those were Federal funds, if you will, fixing that levee, it now threatens the integrity of your own mainstream levee in the Mississippi, and your own people have said that this particular part of the levee is threatened and does need repair.
So I guess my question to you is: wouldn't it make sense to use Corps maintenance funds to strengthen that levee, since Federal funding, in fact, caused this problem to happen in our District?
Page 86 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC General FUHRMAN. I'm not familiar with that particular issue, but we'll provide the answer for the record and go back and work that with the Lower Mississippi Valley Division.
Mrs. EMERSON. That would be great, because if, in fact, you can use your maintenance funds, since Federal funding caused that or threatens the integrity of your own mainstem levee, which threatens thehas the potential of threatening 350 to 500,000 people within southeast Missouri and Arkansas, we would just hope that you would seriously reconsider the funding part of this. Thank you.
[The information received follows:]
Mrs. EMERSON. I also have a question for Mr. Jackson.
I was obviously very pleased to hear that when an emergency situation prevails, that Fish and Wildlife does put people first.
But let me ask you a question: if, in fact, as we have the potential for a major disaster in our District and along the Mississippi River, wouldn't it makes sense that with a potential for disaster that Fish and Wildlife might also waive some of the restrictions of the Endangered Species Act and other NEPA requirements in order to save people first?
Mr. JACKSON. Basically, what we're doingand we're doing this more and more nationwideis working up front with the Corps of Engineers and FEMA and the States and others, essentially so that we don't have to waive the Endangered Species Act.
The type of up-front coordination really has not resulted in any delays or really any impacts on the emergency activities implemented by those agencies.
Mrs. EMERSON. But I guess it's how you define an emergency or if you define it in advance of it happening, or whether, you know, actions, environmental impact statements, and the like can be sped up if, in fact, an impending disaster would occur.
Page 87 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. JACKSON. Agreed. And I was not referring necessarily just to emergencies, because in advance that would not necessarily be an emergency situation.
Mrs. EMERSON. Yes.
Mr. JACKSON. But what we are finding is just this overall up-front involvement that we're having with the agency so we're actually sitting there at the table with them during the planning process.
We've been able to, I think, amongst us, really expedite, whether it's an EIS, a NEPA process, or whether it's a consultation. In fact, in many cases we have actually worked with the agencies to totally avoid not only impacts to listed species, but to avoid the need to even consult, just because we're made part of that planning process.
Mrs. EMERSON. But you would agree that it's more important to put people first?
Mr. JACKSON. Yes.
Mrs. EMERSON. Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, Mr. Pombo left a question for me. I wonder if I might have a couple extra seconds to ask his question?
Mr. HORN. Please go ahead.
Mrs. EMERSON. Okay. And this goes to General Fuhrman again, and I'm going to ask you this on behalf of Congressman Pombo from California.
Could you please describe for the committee how the Corps plans to initiate its proposed comprehensive basin investment in California? What criteria did the Corps use to select existing projects for reprogramming? Once the local cost share is found, will these reprogrammed projects be fully funded by the Corps so they can begin immediately?
General FUHRMAN. Let me just say a couple of things holistic about it, and then I will turn it over to General Capka to give some specifics. And many of the details we may want to provide for the record.
Page 88 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But we're reprogramming $100,000 to lay out the program of study in this fiscal year, with another $300,000 Federal dollars to be matched by State dollars to get the comprehensive study going. And then we'll carry that piece into fiscal year 1998, where it's envisioned to cost in the neighborhood of $4 million.
Let me turn it over to General Capka to give a few specifics as far as scope.
General CAPKA. As General Fuhrman mentioned, we needed to reprogram money in order to meet that fiscal year 1997 bill so we can get the study started very quickly.
We had some projects in California that, because of a number of reasons, one of which was not having the local cost share available to proceed with the project, allowed us to defer that project. We captured that money and identidied it for reprogramming in order to pay for this particular study that you referred to.
But in no case did we intentionally or have we slowed a project down for the sole reason of supporting this particular study.
Mrs. EMERSON. Okay. Thank you very much.
Mr. HORN. I thank the gentlewoman.
Next is our distinguished colleague from California, Mr. Riggs.
Mr. RIGGS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And let me say good afternoon to all the witnesses on this panel, but especially General Capka, and tell him how much we're looking forward to working with him closely, particularly the two districts under his command that oversee Corps of Engineers matters in my Congressional District and very important projects that the general and I have visited on, like the deep water dredging and port development project on Humboldt Harbor in the northern end of my District, and in the southern end of my District the Napa River flood control and alluvial watershed projectvery important projects.
Page 89 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But I want to come back and focus on the Central Valley floods, and I'd like to really, with this panel and the next panel, direct my comments and questions to the preventable nature of these particular floodsthat is, to what extent were these floods preventable, and to what extent could the $2 billion in damages have been mitigated?
Mr. Chairman, I'd like to submit for the record an article from ''Insight'' magazine entitled, ''Regulatory Dam Burst as California floods rage,'' and just briefly quote from this article.
It says that, as we've heard here this morning, that these floods, which caused the temporary evacuation of more than 100,000 people, destroyed hundreds of homes were, in the opinion of many of these residents in these communities, preventable, and they placed the blame for flooding ''squarely on the regulatory zeal of the Federal and State agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Army Corps of Engineers, their zeal to enforce environmental regulations.
''Such regulations have impeded levee repair, forced the suspension of the regular dredging of river bottoms and, say area residents, placed a ridiculous amount of pressure on them to satisfy enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, ESA, all the while slowly putting their existing environment at risk.
''Instead of funds going for needed levee repairs and dredging, huge amounts of money, instead, have been used to provide habitats for endangered species such as the fairy shrimp and beaver.
''According to one estimate by the California Reclamation Board, half of the delays and 30 percent of all levee repair costs are for environmental mitigation fees dictated by State and Federal regulators. Of the nearly $70 million appropriated for levee repair during the last year, alone, more than $20 million went to tree planting.''
I guess this would be trees that are planted on the tops of levees to protect wildlife habitat for endangered species, which might have been better spent in maintaining their structural integrity.
Page 90 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Two other comments that I want to insert or quote from this article before my question. One is from a man by the name of Bill Jennings of Delta Keeper. He says, in response to the legislation by Congressmen Pombo and Herger, who testified on the first panelI believe that they have a bill that would permanently alter the ESA to deal with the issue of levee repair.
In response to their proposed legislation, this man, Mr. Jennings, says, ''This action is not surprising, considering the fact that Representative Pombo has been a vociferous opponent of the protection of endangered species for many years. Levees are an important source of wildlife habitat, and if the ESA was waived on the repair we would all be much poorer for it.''
Compare his comment to a comment by a man by the name of Jim English, general manager of the San Juan water district in the Central Valley. He says, ''Think about it. When these levees broke, they rushed over agricultural land, picking up herbicides and petrochemicals. Chemicals have been mixed in combinations that wouldn't happen in nature, and animal feces have been mixed in with that water. This is a huge, huge problem and will probably take years to sort out.''
So I guess my question, gentleman, is
Mr. HORN. I assume the gentleman wants the article to go in the record?
Mr. RIGGS. Yes.
Mr. HORN. Without objection, so ordered.
[The information submitted follows:]
Page 91 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. RIGGS. Thank you.
And, by the way, just so you know, for the later panel I'm going to also insert another article in the record that talks about all of the development that is proposed for these flood-prone areas, which appears to be one massive flood plain or flood basin.
Again, it comes back to my concern that we simply cannot keep writing, if you will, a blank check to pay for the damages that result from these periodic floods, these natural disaster episodes that we know are going to occur.
So, given that, first of all, let me ask to what extent does present law, specifically the ESAthis is to the two generalsto what extent did that affect your ability to respond expeditiously and efficaciously to these floods?
General FUHRMAN. Congressman, first of all, from an emergency response perspective, the Endangered Species Act is waived during that phase of the operation, so the simple answer there is it had no impact.
With regard to your question on how did it affect the maintenance and repair of the levees prior to the flood from my Corps perspective, the ones that I'm responsible for maintenance and repairand none of those or very few of those are in the California basin. I have some on the Mississippi. There it is not a substantial issue. I would defer to the California Reclamation folks that operate and maintain those levees on a daily basis to answer your question as far as those impacts go.
Mr. RIGGS. General, let me ask you, do you think some of the estimated $120 million that the Corps will spend in implementing and enforcing the Endangered Species Act could be better spent, given what we've learned from these floods? I mean, could some of those fundsshould they have been, instead, reprogrammed for levee repair and the structural maintenance of these?
Page 92 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I mean, you know the nature of the flooding there. You know that we still have not found or identified a long-term flood control solution for that whole basin, and that when we ultimately do the cost may be prohibitive to taxpayers. But do you think some of this money should be spent?
General FUHRMAN. I think it's a balance, sir. Again, not knowing the genesis of those numbers and what particular projects or what's behind those figures, I can't comment on them.
But generally, as you take a look at projects that we construct, one needs to take a look at the impact on the environment and come to an agreement between all parties on what is appropriate mitigation for any impact that we have on the environment out there, and ensure that that is reasonable. We need to ensure that it's reasonable and not outrageous.
Mr. RIGGS. I've probably run over my time, but I want to see if any of the other witnesses would like to respond to this particular question. I think it's incredibly important. Again, I worry that we don't focus enough on trying to prevent and mitigate these disasters.
Mr. JACKSON. Congressman, let me comment.
To underline General Fuhrman's point relative to balance, I think that is the mantra of all of the agencies. We hear you loud and clear. We are aware of those contentions. We do take those very seriously because that is the perception out there in some quarters, and in those cases perception becomes reality, and so we have spent quite a bit of time trying to run to ground those particulars and to find those facts.
Quite frankly, we have not found in our investigation the fact that the Endangered Species Act in any way really led to any of the damage that has occurred, the flooding, etc.
And, again, these areas are very important habitatprovide very important habitat for any number of species, both listed under the Endangered Species Act and others.
Page 93 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think we have a longstanding tradition, in working with all the agencies, to try to find replacement for that habitat, but typically that is something that is worked out during thatusually during a very informal consultation process.
And the mitigation really does not hold up the actual repair work or the mowing, etc.
Mr. RIGGS. Mr. Chairman, if you would allow me one other follow-up questionyou would acknowledge though, would you not, sir, that this systemand I think it's a patchwork system of dikes and levees that were really first created by man, and that they were created to basically protect productive agricultural landsagain, these are man-made. This is man-made habitat, if you will, the purpose of which is to protect productive agricultural lands, not necessarily to create habitat for endangered species.
Mr. JACKSON. Let me respond. Much of these areas obviously were, you know, important and vital wildlife habitat previously and, in effect, where those dikes have been constructed was at one time important riparian zones.
What essentially we have done is we have moved some of those natural levees that are found in the flood plains close to the river system because, you know, we are developing or we are farming in some of those flood plain areas now.
And the fact in California, for example, where we have lost approximately 95 percent of our wetlands, these riparian areas and those associated wetlands with that have become just extremely vital to Fish and Wildlife, so we're always looking for opportunities so that we don't have a net loss in habitat.
Mr. RIGGS. Thank you, Mr. Jackson.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. HORN. I thank the gentleman.
Did the gentleman for Oregon have any questions?
Page 94 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [No response.]
Mr. HORN. Well, we thank all of you on the panel, Generals Fuhrman and Capka, Mr. Lee, Mr. Jackson, Mr. White, Mr. Suiter. Thank you very much for coming and sharing this information.
General FUHRMAN. Mr. Chairman, if I just might have one final word, from the Members of Congress, at least, I appreciate the praise for FEMA and for the Corps and for all of us Federal partners up here in our response, but I would just like to say, from my perspective, having visited many of these and been associated with flood fights for a long time, the real heroes of these operations are the State, local, and private individuals out there that operate these flood prevention facilities on a day-to-day basis, and some of those will be testifying before you here shortly.
We're glad to be able to do our piece, but those folks are the real heroes out there.
Mr. HORN. Well, we certainly agree with those comments, General. We've seen that time and again throughout the country, and we thank you for mentioning that.
So this panel will be replaced now by panels four and five: Mr. Douglas Wheeler, the secretary of the California Resources Agency, will be the first witness, and we have three guests that represent the aspects of local districts and hospitals and engineering firms within the flood area.
If Mr. Hastey, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Barry will come up along with Mr. Mosher, Mr. Pulver, Mr. Hoppin, and Mr. Mount, we will proceed with the next panel when we've responded to this vote.
There is a vote on the floor. We have 15 minutes to get therenow about 12 minutes. We will be back after that. Sorry to delay you, but these things happen between the Floor and committee work.
Page 95 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you.
We're in recess for about 20 minutes.
Mr. HORN. The committee will come to order.
Our first witness today on the panel of Californians that are close to the subject will be Mr. Brent Hastey from Marysville, California, a member of the Yuba County Board of Supervisors.
We know, Mr. Hastey, that the flood area certainly hit your county in great degree, and we look forward to hearing from you.
As you all have heard, we put your statement in the record just after the introduction, and if you could summarize it in 5 minutes we'd be most grateful.
TESTIMONY OF BRENT HASTEY, YUBA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, MARYSVILLE, CA; MIKE SMITH, PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER, MHM ENGINEERING, MARYSVILLE, CA; R. MICHAEL BARRY, ADMINISTRATOR, PLUMAS DISTRICT HOSPITAL, QUINCY, CA; WILLIAM M. MOSHER, CHAIRMAN, SLOUGHHOUSE RESOURCES CONSERVATION DISTRICT, ELKGROVE, CA; JOHN PULVER, WATER RESOURCES COORDINATOR, SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY, CALIFORNIA; CHARLIE HOPPIN, CHAIRMAN AND DIRECTOR, CALIFORNIA-ARIZONA WATERMELON GROWERS ASSOCIATION, YUBA CITY, CA; AND JEFFREY F. MOUNT, PROFESSOR AND CHAIR, DEPARTMENT OF GEOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, DAVIS, CA
Mr. HASTEY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you for this opportunity to address this committee regarding the New Year's flooding experience in Yuba County.
As the third district supervisor for Yuba County, past president of Reclamation District 784, and member of Governor Wilson's Flood Emergency Action Team, I have been actively involved in identifying flood issues and concerns and providing recommendations for relief and assistance for our local community.
Page 96 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The 1997 New Year's floods have had a significant impact on me, personally, because my family has seen this flood disaster first-hand. We lost our home and our orchards as a result of this disaster.
I have been working with my friends and neighbors as we rebuild our lives for the second time since 1986. We are very angry. We have waited patiently since 1986, and we do not understand why our failing levee system has not been fixed. Our community has had over 800 homes damaged or destroyed, and damage estimates are in excess of $36 million. The five largest employers in Yuba County have gone under water.
Property owners and businesses are struggling financially to stay in Yuba County. The county is frustrated in its efforts to address immediate repair and restoration needs and to prevent additional flood damage to all levees.
The question to date has been: who has the responsibility for this? And what does the Federal Government consider timely response?
Now the question is asked: how many people have to die before the levees are fixed? One death in 1987, six or three in 1997. We pray that that is enough.
Federal funding needs to be appropriated immediately for adequate repair and restoration of our levees.
I can't begin to describe the feeling of frustration in our emergency operations center following the levee break as we waited for the Corps of Engineers to arrive. We were at the mercy of the flood waters.
At 8:10 p.m. on January 2, the Federal river levee failed. At 4:00 a.m. the following morning the Corps was on the scene, 8 hours after the levee failure. On a good day I can drive to their Sacramento headquarters from my house in 40 minutes. An 8-hour response is too long when my friends and neighbors are running for their lives.
Once on the scene, a contract negotiator for the Corps began negotiating contracts. At 6:00 a.m., representatives from Reclamation District 784 requested the Corps consider measures to fight the flood, such as closing holes in the railroad tracks and the possibility of breaching the Bear River, as it was obvious the teacup we live in would fill up and spill over.
Page 97 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC He informed us that his only responsibility was to negotiate this contract and he would do nothing else. He did not tell them whom to call or whom to see in the Corps with their concerns.
At 5:00 p.m. on January 3rd the decision was made to breach the river levee to allow water out. Twenty hours for this decision was too long. The Bear River had over-topped and the system failed.
Because the Corps and the Department of Water Resources took too long to decide what to do, we now have miles of levee to repair instead of two well-defined breaks.
On January 22, once again the people of Yuba County were flooded, this time by the breaches on the Bear River levee. Between the 2nd and the 22nd there were over 18 days of good weather. Still, the breaches on the Bear levee were not fixed.
Decisions must be made to protect people, not just when it is convenient for the bureaucrats. The Corps and DWR should be required to place liaison officers in each emergency operating center during a flood event so communication can take place.
The State of California has promised financial assistance to ensure county governments have the ability to address expenses and disaster-related losses. We hope the Federal Government will continue to provide ongoing assistance. Private employers that have been damaged during the flood should be, likewise, assisted.
We must give consideration to areas suffering repeat disasters. We must establish a partnership between all levels of government in disaster response, recovery, and preparedness. Counties are in desperate need of financial assistance to address future pre-disaster mitigation programs.
It is our recommendation to increase Federal funding levels for long-term repair, stabilization, and maintenance for publicly-and privately-maintained levees, expedite repairs and maintenance for publicly-and privately-maintained levees, expedite repairs and maintenance on priority projects, and initiate an adequately-funded comprehensive assessment program to determine the integrity of levees throughout the Central Valley.
Page 98 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC U.S. Department of Agriculture has previously provided replacement nursery stocks to farmers. USDA should re-initiate this program to assist the replacement of trees damaged by flood waters. USDA should also consider utilizing funds available through its various soil conservation programs to assist farmers recover and protect topsoil.
New water projects must be developed for the purpose of flood control. Projects on the Yuba River, Bear River, Cottonwood Creek, and Sites Reservoir would provide greater flood control flexibility for the State water project and the Central Valley project.
I would only hope that, as we are able to be better prepared for disasters such as fires and earthquakes, we never experience another flood in Yuba County. We need to begin to work together side by side proactively. We must meet the needs of the people we serve. They deserve nothing less.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for this time. I'm available for questions.
Mr. HORN. We thank you for that very thorough and detailed statement. We will ask staff to send this testimony to the Corps of Engineers and have them give a replywhich I'd like too, without objection, insert at this point in the recordin relation to how you saw the events versus what their decision-making was, given the times you've stated there, because you certainly have a right to a concern on that situation.
[The information received follows:]
Mr. HORN. Our next witness is Mr. Mike Smith, the president and general manager of MHM Engineering in Marysville, California.
Page 99 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, my name is Mike Smith. I'm a registered civil engineer and I provide engineering services to numerous levee districts, including Reclamation District 784 in Yuba County where the Feather River levee broke on January 2, 1997.
The levee system in northern California was built over the last century by basically dredging the silts and sands from the floodway and constructing berms on each side of the river channel. The soils were not selected because of their engineering characteristics as good construction materials for levees, but because they were readily available. The resulting sandy, highly-porous levees seep and leak water. The ground on which the levees sit is also subject to seepage.
When the rivers are high, the levees and the ground they sit on becomes saturated, resulting in a significant reduction in the structural integrity of the levee.
Seepage moving through levees can also cause internal erosion of the levee. These factors, in combination or separately, can lead to the catastrophic failure of a levee. It is highly probable that these factors played a major role in the Feather River levee failure on January 2nd.
One might imagine that levee failure is caused by floodwaters overtopping a levee. While this can happen and frequently does in many parts of the Nation, it is important to note that our levees typically fail because of a lack of structural stability, not overtopping.
Our levee system was constructed by the Federal Government, is generally owned by the State of California. Numerous local districts such as RD 784 provide routine maintenance under the authority of the State of California.
Without substantial improvements to the levees, we can expect to have more failures. Yuba County has experienced two floods from levee failures in the last 11 years. Because of the flood of 1986, the Corps of Engineers was directed to undertake the repair of the entire levee system in the Sacramento flood control project. The section of levee on the Feather River that failed on January 2, 1997, was scheduled for reconstruction in 1998, 12 years after the 1986 flood and one year too late to prevent the 1997 flood.
Page 100 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Prior to the January 1997 flood, there were a number of ongoing efforts to restore and improve the reliability of the levee system which protects Yuba and Sutter Counties. These efforts need the continued support of the Federal Government.
It is recommended that the current program for reconstruction of levees as identified in the Corps' 1990 Sacramento River flood control system evaluation, Marysville Yuba City area report be completed.
It is recommended that the 1991 Corps of Engineers' feasibility study to identify and support higher levels of flood protection for Yuba County be completed.
It is also recommended that the Corps review the design concepts of the proposed levee reconstruction project in light of what can be learned from the January flood to ensure that the goal of adequate structural stability has been achieved.
The proper maintenance of levees and flood control channels has become increasingly difficult due to State and Federal environmental laws and regulations. The floodways have become, in many places, so overgrown with trees, brush, and undergrowth, as well as the buildup of silts and gravel deposits, that the channel capacity is significantly reduced and we can no longer expect the floodway to handle its intended design flow.
In Reclamation District 784, before starting the Corps of Engineers' levee reconstruction project that was to provide increased levee strength to the section of levee that failed in January, an 80-acre site had to be created at a cost of $1.9 million to mitigate for 43 elderberry bushes found on the levee system. This is an example of how the implementation of the environmental regulation both delays and increases the cost of a vitally-needed levee repair project.
It is recommended that Congress and Federal agencies review and, where appropriate, amend Federal regulations, including the Endangered Species Act, that prohibit or impede the repair and maintenance of levees and flood control channels.
Page 101 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Levees and flood control channels are essential infrastructure and need to be primarily managed and maintained as such. Other uses, such as wildlife habitat, can be accommodated but should have a secondary priority.
In addition, the Corps of Engineers assumed the responsibility of the California Debris Commission, which included channel maintenance of the Yuba River through dredging and accumulated gravels. Funding needs to be provided and environmental regulations need to be modified that allow the regular maintenance of the Yuba River, including extraction of gravels.
I would like to express my appreciation for the opportunity of testifying before the subcommittee, and I'm available now or in the future to answer any questions.
Mr. HORN. Well, we thank you, Mr. Smith. That was very helpful testimony.
Our next witness is Mr. R. Michael Barry, the administrator of the Plumas District Hospital in Quincy, California.
Mr. BARRY. Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. I'm here to give testimony on the problems and delays we've experienced with FEMA.
Our disaster occurred January 1993 and is still not resolved. It started snowing and didn't stop until we had 6 feet of very heavy, wet snow. When the snow on our roof reached 2 1/2 feet, we started removing it so the roof would not collapse. We hired temporary employees and used 24 prisoners, for a total of 30 people on our roof removing snow.
After the snow stopped, the heavy rains came.
Because we started removing snow at a very early stage, our metal corrugated roof structure and metal roof supports were not damaged; just the insulation and membrane on top of the roof.
Page 102 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We requested assistance from FEMA in March 1993. Our insurance company covered patching the leaks, but not the damage done by the snow removal equipment.
Once the roof membrane had been punctured by shovels and snow blowers put on the roof, the water got under the membrane and our roof never dried out. At night the water under the roof membrane would freeze and cause the membrane to blister up and open the patches and expand the breaks in the membrane.
Rain and hot weather during the summer had a similar effect.
The FEMA survey team came in May 1993. They were very helpful and they told us it was their opinion that replacing our insulation and roof membrane and so on was definitely eligible and we should have no problems getting the money from FEMA.
The next year, May 1994, we got a letter from FEMA, which is Exhibit 1, saying, ''Unfortunately, we are prevented from funding repairs to the hospital roof because the damage did not occur during the instant period.''
A temporary employee was hired by our insurance company because they were so overwhelmed with damage claims, and he made a mistake on the damage report, and he put a date of December 31, 1992, as the date the damage occurred. The FEMA instant period started January 5th.
We appealed the decision because our roof was not damaged until we started removing snow on January 9th, which was 4 days after the instant period started.
Then we received another letter from FEMA in June 1995, which is Exhibit 2, which basically says we're not telling the truth, that FEMA believed the temporary insurance company's employee, and that we had generated the new information in our last letter because of being declared ineligible.
The letter gave an additional new reason by Regional Director Shirley Mattingly that our roof damage ''cannot be attributed to the disaster event, but instead results from cumulative effects of time and wear and tear.''
Page 103 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC She must have assumed that our roof was an old one. She didn't know that the roof had been completely replaced only nine years before and should have lasted at least 15 years, because our previous roof lasted for 25.
In November 1995 the Governor's Office of Emergency Services sent a second appeal to Regional Director Mattingly, which is Exhibit 3. The letter said, ''It is extremely improbable that our documents would be generated as charged by FEMA specifically for the purpose of responding to FEMA's denial.''
The letter also said, ''Contrary to FEMA's assertion, this roof has been exceptionally well maintained and the underlayment and overlayment would not need replacement had it not been for the damages caused by the storm, as well as the penetrations made by shovels used by many people over several weeks to remove the snow, and it was imperative that the snow be removed to prevent collapse of the roof. Delay was unthinkable.''
November 1996 the Governor's Office of Emergency Services sent our third appeal to Shirley, and it's Exhibit 4.
It is our experience that the people at FEMA responsible for handling our claim spent their time and energy looking for any reason to deny our claim rather than evaluating the facts, reviewing the documentation provided to them by their own people who visited the people, plus the information provided to them by the Governor's Office of Emergency Services.
A process that takes over 4 years, hours of time, pounds of paperwork, and is still not resolved needs to be fixed. Your assistance will be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for your consideration.
Mr. HORN. We thank you for laying out that record. Your letter, as well as Mr. Smith and Mr. Hastey's, and all letters that have complainants such as that with records and times and dates and people, will be sent to FEMA to get a response from them to insert in this hearing record. I don't know if it will be too much help four years after the fact, but FEMA has, I know, done a good job of generally moving much faster than they did ten years ago or five or six years ago.
Page 104 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Certainly, I would think that they would want to deal with the problems in the system that are a problem.
Now, perhaps the people that have already rejected it will be asked to do the letter for the administrator coming back here because they're the ones that know something about the problem, and usually human beings, no matter where they are, don't admit much self blame, so we might be going through the same circle again.
But we will try to follow up on it and staff counsel will certainly do that.
Our next witness is Mr. William M. Mosher, the chairman of the Sloughhouse Resources Conservation District in Elkgrove, California.
Mr. MOSHER. Mr. Chairman, I, too, would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. I'd like to state for the record that I receive no Government dollars in the forms of grants, contracts, or subsidies.
What I'd pretty much like to address is kind of what happened along the Cosumnes River because we're a pretty unique river system.
I know at the time that the weather forecasters had been reporting these three storms coming in out of the Hawaii area. It was going to be warm wain. They were calling it the ''Pineapple Express.''
I know that the people in the town of Wilton really didn't know what was coming. It was the agricultural community who watches the river and lives along the river that pretty much knew that we were in for trouble.
On New Year's Day we were all out watching the river. We were watching it rise. We saw it coming up faster than we'd ever seen it before. We evacuated horses and other livestock. We got our sandbags and we were ready to protect our levees.
Page 105 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Starting the next morning, on January 2nd it was farmers and ranchers and their friends and neighbors who saved Jackson Highway when the water started going over it with sandbags. Jackson Highway is the State highway that goes through the area.
Up and down the river, again, farmers and ranchers and their neighbors were out doing everything they could to protect their levee system.
In 1986, which was the highest recorded water that we ever had, the Cosumnes levee still had three or four feet to the top of the levee system, and in this flood the water went right over the top.
The highest recorded water in 1986 was supposedly 40,000 cubic feet per second. In this flood it was over 90,000 cubic feet per second.
So we were dealing with a tremendous amount of water. To compound the problem, the Cosumnes river is what some people call ''free and natural'' and other people call ''dangerous and uncontrolled.'' There are no dams. There is no flood control. There are no overflows. The water comes straight down and heads our way, and it heads into a channel that has not been maintained for my lifetime.
When my grandfather was starting out as a young boy on land along the river, as a farmer he would go out and he could take care of the problems that occurred in the channel. We owned to the center of the river. There was a tree that had fallen over and was starting a wash into the banks and into the levee. He removed the tree. He removed the sand and gravel.
That has not happened. The sand and gravel has built up in the bed of the river three and four deep. In some places there are sandbars. Floodwater coming down is coming into this clogged channel and it really had no choice but to be pushed up and over the banks and over the levees.
I know that in one case my neighbor's son almost lost his life. He was on one of those little four-wheel-drive gators trying to get sandbags up to the top of the levee, and if that hadn't run out of gas the young man would have been on top of the levee when it gave way and he would have lost his life trying to save it.
Page 106 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So there was a lot of local effort on levees that are well-maintained. Most farmers and ranchers take care of the levees to the best of their ability.
Our hands are hampered in a lot of ways. One of the things that we've always done is burned the levees every year to make sure that we could remove any burrowing rodents, and what has happened now is they're trying to eliminate all agricultural burning, so I can't complete that function.
Our hands are tied on really making any repairs to the channel, itself. I know that the reclamation district that is in the area, Reclamation District 800, their employee was ordered out of the river. Should he ever return with his bulldozer trying to free the blockage he would be put in jail.
And so we have done what we could on a local level. We turned to the USDA for their emergency watershed program. We were turned down because they've claimed the watershed was too large for that particular program. They turned us over to the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Army Corps of Engineers turned us down for assistance because they said that the river levees are privately owned and were not built to their standards to begin with.
We went to the county and the county informed us that they were broke because the state took away all their money.
So we were turned down by pretty much everybody we talked to, including a couple requests to FEMA.
As of this week we have re-submitted an application to FEMA for help one more time. One of the reasons that they stated we were turned down is that there was ineligible applicant. This time the Sloughhouse Resources Conservation District has agreed to be the eligible applicant, and we hope, with help here today, that we can get some funds and get these levees fixed, and hopefully take care of the problem in the real short term while we're in the flood stage and then come up with some long-range solutions which include an Army Corps study to come up with a long-range plan that's going to take care of and eliminate the problem of flood on the Cosumnes.
Page 107 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you.
Mr. HORN. Well, we thank you, Mr. Mosher. That's very helpful. Again, that will be referred to the appropriate agencies that have been mentioned for commentary inserted in the record at the same point as your exhibits.
Our next witness is Mr. John Pulver from San Joaquin County, where he's the water resources coordinator.
Welcome, Mr. Pulver.
Mr. PULVER. Thank you very much.
My responsibilities in San Joaquin County include the flood plain management and channel maintenance. San Joaquin County is located in the central part of California at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. In addition, we have channels that come off the western slopes of the Sierras that drain through our county and eventually flow out through the delta into the ocean.
Mr. HORN. I might say I thank you for mentioning that for the record. As a Californian, I happen to have been in every one of your cities over time, and you are in the most beautiful part of the state.
Mr. PULVER. I certainly would agree with that.
In San Joaquin County we have 54 reclamation districts that have the primary responsibility for the levee maintenance and flood plain activities. There are, in addition, 17 irrigation districts and 7 cities.
In a flood fight effort, the reclamation districts are limited by the amount of funds they have available to them, as well as the county is limited by the lack of funds, as well.
We do have the support of the State and Federal Government to come in and help us deal with flood issues. They have the resources but do not have the local presence, so it creates a very difficult management situation and a credit to our Office of Emergency Services to get the personnel and materials to the right places to limit the flood damage that does occur.
Page 108 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Our losses in the January flooding were approximately $100 million. Of that loss, probably $60 million was private damage, $22 million was business, which includes agricultural losses, and then $15 million was public facilities that were lost.
We're working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Small Business Administration to obtain support or help in recovery from that flood effort.
In review of the flood emergency, two items stand out as major concerns to San Joaquin County. They are the need for a higher structural design standard for levees which protect urban areas, and the need for greater degree of certainty that the levees will function as designed.
Urban areas behind levees should receive a higher level of protection due to the substantial benefits that can be accrued from those levees.
The failure of the levees in San Joaquin County has historically not been due to overtopping but has been due to structural failure of those levees.
To existing levees, they can be retrofit with an impervious core or otherwise strengthened to provide a greater degree of protection, and thereby eliminate or reduce the substantial damages that might occur.
The maintenance of the levees is made extremely difficult through the regulations that must be met by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game. These regulations lead to the growth material that impacts the carrying capacity of the levees and the intrusion of burrowing animals into the levee structure.
Both of these situations cause weak points that lead to increased seepage to the levees and their danger of failure.
If the opportunity for uninhibited maintenance is allowed to be performed, flood losses could be reduced by ensuring that the levees would function as designed in emergency.
Page 109 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It is possible that mitigation for environmental impacts caused by the existence of the levees could be partially mitigated in some other location while not jeopardizing the flood-carrying capacity of the levees.
Currently, in order to comply with the restrictions imposed, we are only allowed to perform in-channel maintenance between July 1 and October 15. The maintenance of over 200 miles of channels is extremely difficult to be performed in that short period of time.
The local responsibility as part of the participation in the Federal project is to provide that maintenance. These maintenance requirements are overseen by the State of California.
We often feel as though we are in the middle of two contradicting State requirements. In addition, if the weeds are not cut along the channels they cause a potential fire threat to the surrounding area. The fire marshall requires this cutting. Our challenge is to perform this function within the environmental requirements.
It has been an honor and pleasure for me to be here and to provide this information. I am available for any questions now and in the future that you might have regarding our flood-related activities in San Joaquin County.
Mr. HORN. I thank you, Mr. Pulver. That was excellent testimony. Again, you just stated a problem that relates to the State of California. What are you doing to bring those parties together, before we go to the next witness? Is the State well aware of that contradiction and conflict?
Mr. PULVER. They are aware of the conflict. The bottom-line requirement is put on the county or the actual people charged with the maintenance to resolve the issue, and so we are attempting to do that.
Mr. HORN. Okay. We'll get into that in the general questioning, but I don't know if we have much authority to really ask the State of California what they're going to do about it. We can ask Federal agencies that. But we'll try and see just what they're doing, based on your testimony.
Page 110 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Our second-to-the-last witness or third-to-the-last actually will be Mr. Charles Hoppin of Yuba City, California, which was greatly affected by that flood.
Mr. HOPPIN. Mr. Chairman and your sole remaining subcommittee member, I appreciate the opportunity to speak before you today. I suppose my only regret is the rest of your subcommittee has not seen fit to wait and listen for those of us who
Mr. HORN. Let me just interrupt that. I'm sorry it always looks that way to people, and in my private life before being elected in 1992 I testified as expert witness or something for numerous panels in the Senate and the House, and I know it's frustrating, but the problem is that each of us had probably four things we were supposed to be doing each hour, and I decided I was going to skip about 16 things, since I came in, I think, around 9:30 this morning, just to sit through this because of the importance it is to California.
The problem is not that people don't want to be here. They've got demands of party caucuses where the leadership wants to meet with them, and we've got 100 demands every day, and we just can't make it all the time.
But, let's face it, with a large committee like this, I used to be exactly like our colleague from Oregon here as a freshman. I'd be here, one other freshman would be here, and the ranking democrat and the chairmanor in those days the chairman and the ranking republican.
But all I can say is they aren't sitting snoozin' somewhere. They're working. But we wish they'd decide this was one of the things they had to do. But often you have two or three equals. They've got constituents pouring in every day also.
So thank you. They will read the transcript. We furnish the transcript to everybody, and we'll certainly let them know. And those that are here usually have the most say in mark-up anyhow.
Page 111 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HOPPIN. That's great. I didn't mean to insinuate that they didn't have a busy schedule, sir.
I'm Charlie Hoppin, as you mentioned. I farm over 2,000 acres of vegetable and grain in the Meridian area in Sutter County, California. My operation employs up to 100 people annually and I've farmed in Sutter County for the past 30 years. I'm also proud that my family has farmed in the Sacramento Valley since 1849.
The January 2nd flood, which covered our area of approximately 25,000 acres of prime farm land, was surrounded by 100-year levees. I think it's important, after hearing previous testimony, to make this committee aware that this area is not a designated flood plain and, in fact, has not been flooded since 1940.
Up to 25 percent of our flooded area still remains under water, with approximately 400 acres of my own land in this area also under water. The balance of my land, which I have reclaimed much of through my own efforts of pumping and excavation, still remains unfarmable because of saturation, siltation, and damage to our infrastructure.
Although my livelihood has been tremendously impacted, as well as the livelihood of all of my employees, I would be very short-sighted to stand before you today and feel slighted or singled out by any natural disaster.
To understand the potential of our January floods was put into perspective by Mr. David Kennedy, Department of Water Resources director for the State of California, who stated that if the December storms had continued for another 12 hours, quite possibly thousands of lives would have been lost in the State of California and the majority of the Sacramento Valley would have, in fact, been underwater. It only cites that even with today's technology, nature still has an awesome power of destruction at her disposal.
I'm fortunate that my vocation allows me to touch and work hand-in-hand with nature on a daily basis. It also allows me to be what I would consider a working conservationist, and something I'm very proud of, which is to be a steward of the soil.
Page 112 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC However, I feel the 1997 flood could have undoubtedly been prevented, and I don't think that that prevention would have required Star Wars technology.
We need to have a workable balance between the endangered species problems, maintenance, and repair of channels of our levees.
The Meridian flood flooded at night and killed the majority of wildlife and plants in a 25-square-mile area. This basically has destroyed the balance of nature in our areasomething that we've all worked very hard to maintain.
When procedures are delayed for years by redundant studies, we've lost the common sense to build our levee systems in the first place. We have to be reminded that the majority of our levees were built in the early portion of this century, when Fresno scrapers and mules preceded Caterpillar tractors and John Deeres, and hand-held transit preceded laser-guided systems. However, more importantly, it was a time, I believe, that common sense preceded bureaucracy.
I think it is imperative that we value the habitat that has been created in a secondary manner by the waterways and levees, that Congress should not allow created habitat to compromise the intent and integrity of our manmade wonder. It was designed to conserve and deliver water, while protecting the entire population of northern California from flood and havoc.
A good example is the Sutter Wildlife Refuge in the Sutter bypass. It allows mid-channel growth of trees and brush. This restriction of water undoubtedly contributed to the flood of 1997 in my area.
I feel it is important that Federal agencies follow the same common-sense cultural practices in flood plains, be it refuges or mitigation areas, that private landowner neighbors have followed for decades.
I believe it is important we proceed with vigor to repair the known problem areas and to prevent so-called ''100-year floods'' from recurring on a regular basis.
Page 113 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC These 100-year floods threaten the backbone of California's economy and much of its population.
Assuming that Congress and the appropriate Federal agencies recognize the need for immediate repairs, while concurring very wholeheartedly with Congressmen Fazio and Herger, I would conclude that we need to come up with some kind of a Cal-Fed advisory panel to reassess the levee systems in our State. I feel this group should also include business interests in California, as well as a representative from a responsible environmental group such as the Environmental Defense Fund.
It has been my experience that when concerned parties in any issue are allowed to work together as equals, seemingly insurmountable problems can be readily resolved.
I would urge Congress to work with the State of California and its citizens to restore the most magnificent water system in the world.
Thank you very much. I hope I finished on a lighter note than I started, sir.
Mr. HORN. We appreciate your testimony. Again, where we can we'll send it to the appropriate agencies and that will be added to the record where your letter already is.
Our last witness before we get to Secretary Wheeler is Mr. Jeffrey Mount, professor of geology, University of California, Davis. Welcome.
Mr. MOUNT. Thank you. I'm delighted to be here.
I want to introduce myself. I'm very different than the other members of this panel. I am a professor of geology at UC Davis. I have recently published a book called ''California Rivers and Streams,'' and, like any academic, it's always, you know, ''Read my book.'' So I want to give this book to the committee because it does give a more lengthy description of what I'm going to talk about today.
Page 114 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I also want to mention that I'm a member of the Muir Institute for the Environment, which is a UC Davis program, and, as of yesterday, appointed to the system-wide UC task force on flooding. As I say, just yesterday I found that out.
The points I want to get to are two-fold, especially after listening to the comments today.
First, I want to talk a little bit about the lessons learned. I think we are not focusing on the lessons that we have learned from this flood.
Second, what I'd like to do is just give sort of a ''Reader's Digest'' version of some of the solutions that we might be considering.
The first lesson that we have to learn is we can't prevent flooding. We have to get over that. There is some mind set that says that somehow we can prevent flooding. Our systems of damswe've spent more than 100 years trying to prevent flooding in California, and we cannot. We have to move beyond that.
Secondly, one of the issues that was not discussed today is multi-purpose dams. Multi-purpose dams in California fulfill one purpose, and that's water supply. They do not do a very good job of reducing floods.
Thirdly, levees fail. Figuratively and literally, levees fail. It is appropriate, when we think about this as to why levees fail. There are, of course, the engineering constraints that cause levees to fail during high flows, but there are other aspects.
We ask levees to do too much. We place them against rivers. We basically divorce rivers from their flood plains and attempt to restrict these flows to a narrow channel.
Page 115 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC By restricting these flows to a narrow channel, you essentially elevate the flood elevation. You elevate the stage. And so it is no wonder that you have catastrophic flooding associated with levees.
But most of all the point I want to get across about a lesson learned is something we should be discussing. We're locked into what I like to call a ''cycle of serial engineering.'' What I mean by that is that we've colonized the flood plain in California, depending on basically agricultural levees, and these urban centers have sprung up throughout central California directly in harm's way. But we've depended on those levees, and then later a system of multi-purpose dams.
Each time there is a flood, we have what we're going through basically right now, and usually the call, the traditional call, is for more levees and more dams.
The point is: they will not prevent flooding.
And the downside of this is that they will stimulate further growth in harm's way. There are more than 20 new communities being proposed in the Central Valley, alone. It's the fastest-growing region in our State.
Worse yet, we know that some time early in the next century the Central Valley is likely to become more urban than rural.
But most of this is taking place in harm's way, and I think that's an important lesson we have to learn from this.
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Some solutions? I wouldn't be an academic if I didn't offer my suggestions for solutions.
First of all, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. That is the old way we used to manage floods. That is, we used to develop large, silver bullet solutions. We will build Shasta Dam and that will prevent flooding. We will build Oroville and that will prevent flooding. We will build Folsom and that will prevent flooding. It won't.
So the old approach won't work. What we need is a more-integrated approach. That approach basically involves breaking out of this cycle of serial engineering, and that is getting away from the traditional approach of just erecting new levees or building larger levees and new dams.
What I suggest is what I like to call the ''three harm rule.'' All of this, of course, is put in my testimony.
First, stay out of harm's way.
Second, get out of harm's way.
Third, do not harm.
Briefly I'll outline what I mean by that.
Page 117 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Stay out of harm's way. We are asking too much of our flood plains. We can look upon our flood plains as a place to store floods, but we're not storing floods there, we're colonizing those flood plains.
Right now, with the current government structure, we are not preventing people from building in harm's way, and what we're essentially doing is trying to make up after they have built in harm's way. So we're putting ourselves at risk, and I will argueI don't have the time to argue at lengththat the root of our problem is the 100-year flood plain. It's a slavish devotion to a line in the sand which is nothing more than a statistical best guess, and it is probably exacerbating flood damage.
Secondly, get out of harm's way. I think the present tilt that FEMA is making toward mitigation rather than disaster relief is a very positive approach. Flood-proofing, elevation of structures, for example, re-operation of our so-called ''multi-purpose dams,'' that's one way to get out of harm's way.
And then, third, do no harm. Get away from this approach of crowding rivers with levees. Back off the rivers. Work with the rivers rather than against them.
What I mean by that is setback levees, properly placed, can be an effective flood control mechanism. Notice I say ''properly placed.'' It also can preserve agricultural land in the Central Valley because you will not urbanize inside those leveesat least I'd hope you wouldn't urbanize.
Bypass systemswe have one of the world's best bypass systems in the Sacramento system. It didn't prevent flooding, by the way, but it's one of the best. We need one on the San Joaquin system.
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Thirdand this is the hardest partstep back and take a look at your system. We cannot afford to build a bullet-proof flood control system, so we must make some decisions about where failure should occur in the system, and this is what I call a ''circuit breaker'' approach. It keeps the house from burning down.
We need to choose some areas that will be flooded in the extreme, rare events, and we've got to stop urbanizing in those places, and the best places, of course, are agricultural land because the cost is less.
So I'm actually a great proponent of preserving agricultural land in the Central Valley as a flood control mechanism.
I am probably out of time, so thank you.
Mr. HORN. Well, please finish. Don't worry about the time.
Mr. MOUNT. Actually, my concluding remark would simply be: stay out of harm's way, get out of harm's way, and do no harm. This is the secret to breaking out of this cycle.
We talk about all kinds of societal cycles, whether it's the cycle of poverty, or whatever. In this case it's a cycle of engineering, this serial engineering. The way to break out is this kind of approach rather than new dams and larger levees.
Page 119 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC That's it. Thank you very much.
Mr. HORN. Well, we deeply appreciate that testimony. I'm going to yield to the ranking democrat. He just got elected to Congress and he's already ridden uphow many have we got on your side? Twenty-five members? He's now the ranking democrat. As he says, it's scary.
The gentleman from Oregon.
Mr. BLUMENAUER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Mount, I very much appreciate your testimony. Mr. Chairman, I hope that we can have some of our colleagues directed towards the full testimony, because it seemed to me that it's something that we don't hear in this setting.
I am struck by the fact that people are coming here talking about the fact that we have had three 100-year floods in the last 11 years. One of our colleagues said we ought to follow through on this wherever it leads, because I think the evidence is pretty compelling that there has been a huge investment in this area and it's not making it better. It's making it worse. And if we're not careful it's just going to compound it.
The up side is that this isn't something that's unique to northern California. I mean, people are wondering why they're having flood of the century every other year in Europe because they've shortened the Rhine 50 miles and they've channelized it.
Page 120 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I'm curious if you can elaborate for a moment on how we would actually have the objective analysis that would lead us to hopefully an independent assessment of what works and what doesn't.
You have alleged that you're instantly suspect because you've published a book and have some opinions on it. Nobody that has come before us is without either strong personal feelings, even if it's for ''common sense'' solutions. Do you have a sense of how we can get an independent assessment that might help provide the framework for decisionmaking?
Mr. MOUNT. Well, I have been accused of being a hopeless optimist. Maybe that's why I work at the university. But the Galloway Report which was done for the Mississippi floods, that is the report that was never formally adopted.
Now, that actually took a relatively independent view and made a number of strong, important recommendations. We need the same kind of thing for the floods of California. We're going to need them in Ohio, as well. We're going to need them probably in the Mississippi Basin again after the snow begins to melt.
Those kind of independent oversight reports are extremely important. Obviously, the University of California has put together a task force which is going to look at this issue and can make comment on this issue, but I'm optimistic that because we now have national attention on this and we are abandoning the slavish devotion to just building more dams and more levees, that we can get an independent review on this.
But, you know, basically I leave it up to you to make those kinds of calls.
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Mr. BLUMENAUER. If I may just
Mr. HORN. Please.
Mr. BLUMENAUER. The notion that somehow we will solve this problem by an additional engineering solution occurs to me to be similar to taking care of a problem of being overweight by letting your belt out.
Do you have a sense of some areas where engineering has given way to solutions, as you suggested, being in harmony with the river, somegod forbid me using this term''reasonable'' land use planning and control over urbanization, and some controlled flooding as options? Are there areas that you can point to where that has been done?
Mr. MOUNT. I'm ashamed to say this, but Europe is way ahead of us on this, and Europe has been taking a complete second look at the way they handle floods.
All of the things you mentionedthe point I wanted to makeand this relates to Europeis no one solution is going to work. It actually takes an integrated watershed-wide approach.
I realize that's a buzzword we hear all the time, but it's true. It is, in fact, true.
Local solutionsacting locally and local solutions make the whole problem worse, and worse for everybody involved.
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So it is watershed-wide approaches, again. It is allowing a river to recolonize its flood plain. It is stronger land use planning hammers.
See, in the Central Valley, as you're both obviously quite aware, there is a great deal of money involved in this and there is a great deal of pressure to develop on these nice, flat places which are in harm's way, so it is a politically very difficult task to encourage local agencies to have stronger land use planning hammers to keep people out of the flood plain or keep people out of harm's way.
And it gets even worse than that, and it comes back to this 100-year flood plain and the insurance, because so much is being done just to meet that little requirement of 100-year flood plain, as if you imagine somebody who lived outside that 100-year flood plain was safe and the person who lives five feet inside it is not.
It's this black-and-white approach which is actually making the problem much worse than it is making it better.
Mr. BLUMENAUER. Mr. Chairman, thank you.
Dr. Mount, I appreciate your comments.
One of the things that I found very interesting in the testimony is the reference to the half life of our memory on these events, that it's sort of an issue of first impression, and we have to re-learn the lessons over and over again.
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I hope that, through the work of this committee, we can do work on the other half of our infrastructure. We're looking at the transportation infrastructure. I'm hoping we can look at the green infrastructure in terms of waterways where we can come up with a balanced, integrated approach that will be similar to ISTEA and will be a model that will save money, improve the quality of life, and be in harmony with nature, rather than trying to build our way out of these problems.
I appreciate your testimony. I found it very useful.
Mr. HORN. I think the gentleman has a very good point, and we look forward to you working with the chairman and myself and others on this committee who are worried about these questions.
May I say, since you mentionedis it Dr. Mount or
Mr. MOUNT. Yes.
Mr. HORN. Okay, Dr. Mount, having been a university president I'm sensitive to this, but it wasn't on the list. What you had to say on the urbanization of the San Joaquin Valley, we've already seen it, and the Sacramento Valley. I want to include at this point in the record, without objection, an article from the ''Los Angeles Times'' that got into this issue and what are the projections for population of the San Joaquin Valley. It is truly astounding.
Page 124 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Of course, what it means is that more people from Los Angeles or wherever who decide to get out of urban, problem-ridden America into the nicer small towns of America and small cities will mean we're losing a tremendous bit of agricultural land in the process.
But when the children decide not to stay on the farm and go off and become lawyersheaven help usand doctors and engineers and political scientists and anthropologists, and even geologists, then the farm is sold.
When you've got people that want to build 500 homes at a sweep, which is what is happening in the Central Valley now, or 100 or 200 around Fresno, it's changing the way of life in the major industry of the State, which is agriculture, believe it or not. Most of our friends in the midwest don't realize that we are the number one agricultural State, and that's due to the land and getting the land in production.
Let me start on a few questions here.
We mentioned the 100-year flood criteria. Dr. Mount, have you had a chance to examine that criteria that the Corps has, because I'd like the professor like you to put it in simple English that all of us can understand on this committee, because we have trouble figuring out how that formula works. Maybe you can give us Geology I.
Mr. MOUNT. First of all, in defense of the Corps, they no longer call it the ''100-year flood plain,'' and that is because of the misconceptions that are associated with the 100-year flood plain.
Page 125 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There is a myth out there that the flood that will occupy an area of the flood plainthe so-called ''100-year flood plain''occurs once every 100 years. Of course, we've all heard we've had 11 100-year floods.
A 100-year flood is nothing more than a statistical best guess, literally a statistical best guess of a size of a flood that would have a certain probability of occurring; that is, it is a 1-in-100 probability that any year, whether it's next year or the year after, 10 years from now, whatever, in any year you will have a flood of that size.
But, unfortunately, what happened is so many people then came up with the idea that that's the 100-year flood, then I'll be able to live in this spot for 100 years without ever experiencing a flood, and nothing could be further from the truth, as we've seen just in the last 11 years in California.
But the important thing to keep in mind is it is a statistical best guess. I over-use that term, but I want you to know that in California, where our database is very smallthat is, our total record is no more than 100 years on any of these basinsthat is the statistical base that
Mr. HORN. Except for tree rings, I assume.
Mr. MOUNT. Right. And what the tree rings are telling us is that we go through great cycles in climate in California.
Where are we in that cycle? Because the 100 years that occurred previously may tell us nothing about what's going to happen in the next 100 years, which is what I think we're finding out, by the way, right at the close of this century is that climate goes in cycles in California.
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But the 100-year flood doesn't acknowledge that so-called ''100-year flood.''
Mr. HORN. Well, would you say, just based on the statistical probability, that what we've seen happen on what the witnesses are all living in, would that easily qualify as the 100-year flood?
Mr. MOUNT. I also, too, don't like to call it the 100-year flood. I would call what we saw this winter, especially along the Cosumnes River, as an extremely rare event, but that doesn't mean it won't occur next winter and that doesn't mean it won't occur within 5 years.
Mr. HORN. No. You can have 10 in a row.
Mr. MOUNT. Right.
Mr. HORN. Or sporadically 20 in a century.
Mr. MOUNT. Exactly.
Mr. HORN. But the scope of what the engineers' prediction model is, is it a certain percent of the flood plain is to be occupied by water, or what?
Mr. MOUNT. Okay. Actually, no. What a great question. I'll tell you, the 100-year flood plain literally is a line which is drawn across the flood plain, which in many cases has nothing to do whatsoever with the flood plain.
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Rivers have made flood plains. They've spread out over the millennia and spread their waters across a flood plain and made them flat. That's what makes them flat in the first place.
The 100-year flood plain, that line is just a line which is drawn across the flood plain. It actually doesn't define anything. There's no geomorphic, no geologic reason to draw this line. This line is just based on a guess of how much water is going to come through, the probability of how much water is going to come through the river and how far it would spread across the flood plain.
The problem is that when we erect levees like we have in the Sacramento system we draw that so-called ''100-year flood plain'' inside the boundary of the levees. I mean, there is no flood plain. There is no such thing as a 100-year flood plain in major portions of the Sacramento Valley.
But you need only look at that map and here came the so-called ''100-year flood,'' and look what happened. It flooded outside the 100-year flood plain, which I think is part of the problem.
Mr. HORN. One of the other factors, FEMA is depending on maps when they impose mandatory flood insurance.
Mr. MOUNT. Right.
Page 128 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HORN. Which Sacramento has been struggling with and Los Angeles has been struggling with various types of zoning to have a reduced fee when you begin the so-called ''AR zone,'' and if you get in early you can continue to have it, but meanwhile tremendous economic damage is being done to you in the resale of your house and everything else.
Do you think those maps have any real relation to what might happen in looking at it from a statistical probability point of view?
Mr. MOUNT. I would argue that anyone who lies within the mapped 100-year flood plain is at risk. Period. You are at risk of flooding.
The question actually arises about small engineering approaches which attempt to shrink the size of the 100-year flood plain just to get those houses out of it, and that in the long run is risky.
Again, that's one of the lessons that was learned in this.
Mr. HORN. Well, in the Los Angeles River, where we all thought we were doing good 30 or 40 years ago, our predecessors, we have built a wonderful high-velocity tunnel to the sea where they can dump everything in the Long Beach harbor, which has to be cleaned regularly because of things coming 20 and 30 and 50 miles upstream. And obviously in that case, where the flood plain lines are now drawn, you have a half a million people that would have to give up their homes. And there are some that want that. Let them put up the money and pay a fair market value. Maybe a lot of people will take it and go up to Oregon and Washington and Idaho and Utah and continue to raise the cost of housing up there
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Mr. BLUMENAUER. Oregon.
Mr. HORN. Oregon, in particular. That's right.
We can take thatwhat is it? I think 300 million acre feet pour into the Pacific off the Columbia River. Just think, if we brought that down the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains into southern California, we'd solve everybody's problem and keep the building trades happy for 30 years.
Anyhow, let me yield to my colleague. We'll alternate questioning, and then Mr. Riggs I guess will be after that.
Mr. BLUMENAUER. I have no more questions, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. HORN. All right. The gentleman from California, Mr. Riggs? And then we'll alternate until we've got the questions out of our system.
Mr. RIGGS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I again want to thank this panel of witnesses for hanging in there, as I know the hearing has gone a little late.
The first thing I want to ask is I want to ask Supervisor Hastey if he ever got a response to the concerns he raised regarding the actions or, as the case might have been, inaction on the part of the Corps of Engineers.
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You cite in your testimony that the Corpsthat you believe that the Corps may have actually, by its actions, exacerbated the flood damages, and you specifically cite an 8-hour response time, when the commute under normal conditions would be 40 minutes; a lack of initial action and single focus on negotiating a contract with Nordic Industries; 11 hours to make the decision to breach the Feather river levee to allow the water that was backing up to leak out; and a failure to act between February 2nd and 22nd, in which you contend there were 18 days of good weather.
Have you gotten a response from the Corps of Engineers to your concerns?
Mr. HASTEY. I've gotten a response in that the helicopter broke down and they had to get another helicopter, though they were flying in from Sacramento, which is 40 miles away. I haven't gotten a response other than from General Capka I've been told that we probably should have had a liaison officer there, or someone that we could speak to.
In our situation, although I think the Corps has done wonderful work in other parts of the county, in Yuba County they truly failed miserably.
There was no one to talk to. There was no one dealing with the locals who knew where the water was going to go who we could deal with, and the negotiator that they sent had one focus, and that was to negotiate this contract.
To be bluntly honest, it was a poor contract to be negotiating. He was negotiating a contract that would bring rock in from both ends, knowingand the locals knew full well that the Bear River was going to break and that one end that they were delivering rock to and the roads they were building were going to be gone.
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The response from the Corps was they sent their very best engineers to devise this problem. I'm not surethat makes us a little nervous when that was their best engineers that devised that plan.
Mr. RIGGS. I appreciate your comments.
I now want to turn to this whole question of land planning. I realize that this is a very sensitive issue because land planning decisions obviously should be made locally by elected officials. They are, if you will, the land use policy decision-makers.
However, I couldn't help but notice over the weekend a very extensive article in the ''San Francisco Examiner'' Sunday that is headlined, ''Unreliable levees, no barrier to developers.'' It goes on to talk about a number of developmentsvery interesting graphic used hereto locate six proposed major projects all in the Central Valley, San Joaquin and Central Valley area.
The article saysit talks about one particular development that would be home to 35,000 people, as I understand it. These would be long-haul commuters to Sacramento, if you will, called ''Plumas Lakes.'' It just happens to be in the area of the worst single incident of this flood where the Feather River burst a levee on the night of January 2nd, inundating 15 square miles of farm land, killing three people, causing $200 million in damage, and forcing 80,000 people from their homes.
It cites this as a fairly typical example of some of these other developments that are planned up and down the Central Valley from Marysville to Fresno.
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It then goes on to say thatand, of course, much of this has historically, as you well know, been productive agricultural land. It says, ''In place after place, the high water inundated or threatened low-lying farm land, where local officials have given the green light for large-scale urban development, housing tracts, new cities'' entire new cities''and even in one case a fantastic complex of four Disneyland-sized amusement parks.
''If everything that has already been approved'' I'm assuming that these are approved and entitled projects''if everything that had already been approved had been built, as many as 200,000 more people would have been at risk, according to a review of planning documents collected by 'The Examiner.'''
And then it goes on to talk about where all these projects are.
Chairman Horn I think alluded to this concern, as well. Again, we're the last people to want to intrude in what is, I stipulate, the quintessential local issue, or the issue of the quintessential issue of local control, but, gentlemen, what is going to happen here? I mean, this is very worrisome. I think these floods, the floods of December 1996, and January 1997, really should be for all of us, as elected policy decision-makers, a wake-up call.
So I'd like to get your response from anybody on this panel who cares to comment about it.
And I'll introduce for the record, Mr. Chairman, this particular article and the graphic, because the graphic, by the way, talks about the nature and the location of the project, and then it has a notation regarding the impact of these storms on this particular area.
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I cited one, Plumas Lakes in Yuba County, so I'm assuming Supervisor Hastey is familiar with this project. The impact of the 1997 storm, as I mentioned, and portions also flooded in the 1986 levee collapsea new city for 9,000 people called Mossdale Village in LathrupI hope I'm pronouncing that rightis approved but tied up in a lawsuit. Impact of the 1997 storm, evacuated when levees leaked.
Another area, Gold Rush City in San Joaquin County, new city for 20,000 people, the four Disneyland-sized amusement parks I mentioned, 10,000 hotel rooms to accommodate four million annual visitors. Impact of the 1997 storm, flooded.
There are several other projects, as well.
So where are we going here, because obviously there isn't enough money in the Federal Treasury to come along after the fact and try to repair the damage of the flooding.
Again, it relates back to this issue Chairman Horn talked about, which is the conversion of traditionally productive agricultural land into essential large-scale housing tracts and instant suburbia.
Mr. HORN. I'm going to have to interrupt the gentleman. I'd like that in the record. Without objection, it will be put in the record.
[The information follows:]
Page 134 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Insert here.]
Mr. HORN. We have a problem, not of the Chair's making, since he learned about it 4 minutes ago.
The Coast Guard subcommittee is going to begin a hearing in here at 2:00, and that will mean all of our wonderful questions that we were going to ask you eyeball-to-eyeball will have to be submitted to you in writing.
The one basic question I'd like to hear from each of you but I can't do it on the record today, but it will become part of the written record, is: in your judgment, what's the best way to solve the problem? And if you wouldn't mind sharing your thoughts in a succinct paragraph, I would be most grateful for that, and that will go in the record without objection at this point.
I also want to get into the problems, one way or the other, of the structural failures in levees as being the problem more than the overtopping, and what we mean by that, and I would welcome your thoughts and I would have the staff ask the Corps of Engineers for their thoughts.
And I'm also concerned about the policy that the Corps says if it's a private levee, ''Sorry, we're not really involved,'' and yet the fact that we had private levees built saved the Federal Government and the Corps and the Congress and the taxpayers a lot of money. I think somewhere we've got to work through that policy and try to make some sense out of it.
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I would simply ask you, Dr. Mount, does that come in hard cover as well as paperback, that fine book of yours?
Mr. MOUNT. That fine book of mine. Yes.
Mr. HORN. Well, if it mentions the Paharo River on which my homestead abuts in San Benito County, I will buy a copy and write you a check. I want to read that book, provided the Paharo River is somewhere in there.
Did you get into the Paharo River?
Mr. MOUNT. I went to graduate school in Santa Cruz, so
Mr. HORN. Well, you know where the Paharo River is, then.
Okay, now we're going to have to close this out.
Mr. Wheeler was going to be back, and I'd like his deputy, Raymond D. Hart, the deputy director of the Department of Water Resources, to at least come at the table, present his statementdon't read it. We'll just put it in the record.
And if you can summarize it in about 5 minutes or so I think my friend, Mr. Coble, will give us that time, but then we've got to close it off automatically. And that will be the last witness, and all the rest will be written questions.
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TESTIMONY OF RAYMOND D. HART, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CALIFORNIA RESOURCES AGENCY, SACRAMENTO, CA
Mr. HART. Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, thank you. I'm Raymond Hart. I'm the deputy director of the Department of Water Resources in California. I'm responsible for flood management in California, and I was directly involved in managing the flood response in California during the January event.
I will submit for the record Secretary Wheeler's remarks. Unfortunately, he had pressing business and couldn't be here.
I'd also like to submit for the record these maps that were given to you earlier. There are four of them.
Mr. HORN. Without objection, they will be inserted in the record.
Mr. HART. And, if I may make a few remarks, the flood that we experienced in January was, indeed, truly a record event. It covered most of the Central Valley, as compared to the 1986 floods, which were really the American and Feather Basins, and the 1995, which was very localized in several different areas of the State but not nearly as widespread as this one.
All our major reservoirs were taxed. Most of them had record flows into them. And the reservoirs in most cases reduced by over half the peak flows that were released downstream, so if the reservoirs had not been there, there would have been tremendous damage well beyond what the Corps' estimates would have been.
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The non-structural things that you've heard about today I think make sense where people are not currently living. Where people are living, such as in Sacramento and Los Angeles, it's certainly not practical to think about moving all these people out.
I'd like to get down to the final remarks so I can save your time.
There are several things that are of concern to us.
One, we need to see a supplemental appropriation to fund the following: $300 million for the full cost of levee repairs to be undertaken to bring the system back to capacity by November; $381 million to fund the Federal share of highway repair, which will require a waiver of $100 million per disaster cap; at least $200 million to repair our damaged public facilities and ongoing assistance to flood victims; and reauthorize and fund the tree assistance program administered by the Department of Agriculture.
In addition to supplemental appropriations needed, we ask that the Congress do the following
Mr. HORN. What was that agriculture number?
Mr. HART. It's the tree assistance program.
Mr. HORN. Okay. You don't have a dollar figure on it?
Page 138 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HART. No, I do not. Support, repair of the damaged levees to their full height and section under the Corps emergency repair authority. Under their phase three program you heard about earlier, they're going to be bringing them back up to the full capacity. The problem is that during this winter we were very fortunate we had six dry weeks that basically took us out of extreme flood emergency for, I think, the remainder of this year. However, if we'd had another large event, not having that 100-year flood protection, particularly north of Sacramento, it would have been devastating.
I think the policy needs to be reviewed as to what can be done for emergency repairs and what constitutes an emergency.
The Corps has a lot of difficulty moving once the water has receded, even though there may be reoccurring flooding.
Continue to support a policy that expedites environmental permitting for the levee repairs, which only requires mitigation to the post-flood level habitat. We've already had habitat mitigation requirements on the two levee repairs up in the Sacramento Basin, both the Feather and the Sutterbasically those areas were under water and damaged, yet there is habitat requirement for mitigation.
Examine the policy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency that does not distinguish between crop year losses and the long-term investment values of agricultural infrastructure, especially with orchards and vineyards.
California's crops are extremely valuable. It's not the row crop type of things that you just plant from year to year; the investment takes years to develop, and then when it's wiped out by the flood, which is a rare one, it will take them 5 to 10 years to reestablish the investment.
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Mr. HORN. That's an excellent point. Having grown up with an orchard, I know what you mean.
Mr. HART. In conclusion, the State recognizes the need for a comprehensive approach to the problem of flooding. It is prepared to do its part in taking remedial action.
The FEAT Reportwhich is the Flood Emergency Action Teamwill identify structural and non-structural solutions to deal with flooding in California.
We look forward to working with the Federal Government in developing a flood control system that is less subject to these devastating floods and which recognizes limitations imposed by the physical reality of a large river prone to erratic hydrology.
The Army Corps of Engineers' proposal to review non-structural responses and conduct basin-wide studies in principal California watershedsalthough I caution the amounts of money we're talking so far, I think are inadequate to do the job. The Corps spent nearly $12 million investigating the American Basin. The $2 million to study the entire San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta obviously will require substantially more than a few more million dollars.
The State has already taken the initiative on the Cosumnes River through establishment of a task force. Local levees obviously are a problem.
Page 140 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think you're correct in your observation that they put in a tremendous investment and the public did not have to pay, yet the public did benefit from it. Interstate 5 and Highway 99 were protected by these levees, and now are at risk to flooding, which obviously impacts the commerce of California.
Mr. HORN. It would certainly be helpful if the State government rounded that whole theory out with the value of the levees and so forth, that we had something in our hands.
I remember the Imperial Irrigation District has several billion dollars worth of irrigation and levees in that area that have been done since 1900, and we ought to be able to make that point.
Mr. HART. We'll put something together for you.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here today, and we certainly stand ready to answer any of your questions.
Mr. HORN. You've done a brilliant job, Mr. Hart. You can go home proud that you've laid out some of the key recommendations. We're sorry we couldn't give you more time, but I didn't know the room was to move at 2:00.
Mr. HART. I understand.
Mr. HORN. We're about as close to 2:00 as we'll get, so thank you very much. We thank the staff, whose names will be in the record, since that's the tradition we have in Government reform, who helped do what, so there will be a section in your transcript on the professional staff that prepared the hearing.
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We thank you, and with that this is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 2:05 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, to reconvene at the call of the Chair.]