Segment 2 Of 2 Previous Hearing Segment(1)
SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 H.R. 3313, THE LONG ISLAND SOUND RESTORATION ACT, AND H.R. 2957, THE LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN BASIN RESTORATION ACT
Tuesday, February 29, 2000
House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, Washington, D.C.
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 2:00 p.m. in room 2167, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Sherwood L. Boehlert [chairman of the subcommittee] presiding.
Mr. BOEHLERT. The hearing will come to order.
Our members will be coming in. Governors, you know the drill. We are not always as prompt as we would like, but we thank you for being prompt.
The Subcommittee meets today to receive testimony on H.R. 3313, the Long Island Sound Restoration Act, and H.R. 2957, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Act.
While Florida has its Everglades and the mid-Atlantic States have their Chesapeake Bay, New York and Connecticut have their Sound. Of course, no government or individual has or owns the Sound or any of the other national resources. But we all have stewardship responsibilities. These crown jewels can become tarnished if not properly protected and restored.
That is what today's hearing is all about, protecting and restoring two of America's great water bodies. I plead guilty to favoritism when it comes to Long Island Sound, at least compared to other waterbodies. As Chairman of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, I am generally expected to refrain from co-sponsoring bills referred to this Subcommittee. But when it comes to Long Island Sound and when Representative Nancy Johnson, Rick Lazio, Gary Ackerman, Sam Gejdenson and others have worked so hard to draft a bipartisan bill, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I am proud to be an original co-sponsor and eager to do all I can to advance the bill.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 As a New Yorker, I know first-hand the environmental, economic and cultural significance of the Sound. A recent study estimated that a clean Sound's annual benefit to the economy is $5.5 billion, considering its commercial, recreational and intrinsic values.
But all is not well in the Sound. This heavily stressed urban estuary with 15 million people living in its drainage basin has its share of challenges. We have known for years that hypoxia due to low dissolved oxygen levels is a priority. In addition, we hope the recent disaster with diseased lobsters is not the symbolic canary in a coal mine. Other threats, such as invasive species, are likely to increase at least if we settle for the status quo.
Progress is being made, however. The Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan is a blueprint targeting the key problems. Governor Pataki and Governor Rowland are providing much of the funding and resources to make it happen. But more is needed.
That is where H.R. 3313 steps in. The bill recognizes the need for a stronger Federal role, dramatically increasing Long Island Sound's authorization level to $80 million a year. It also embraces innovations in watershed general permitting and cost effective pollution prevention and recognizes the special funding needs of distressed communities.
I am honored to welcome an all star lineup of supporters, including my own Governor, Governor Pataki. And let me publicly thank you for the great leadership you are providing, not only for New York, but for the Nation on very important environmental issues. You are someone we look to and we respect.
And my former colleague, Governor Rowland, what a star you have proven to be. We knew it when you were here with us, and you are proving it every single day. So I thank both of you gentlemen for what you are doing, not just for our respective States, but for the Nation.
Let me also welcome supporters of H.R. 2957 and the overall effort to restore Lake Pontchartrain Basin. I congratulate Representative David Vitter as well as Representative William Jefferson for their leadership in moving forward with a consensus-based approach to protecting a severely stressed but critically important waterbody. I look forward to working with them and others to advance the cause.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Let me now turn to the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee, my friend and colleague from Philadelphia, Representative Borski.
Mr. BORSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me thank you for holding this hearing on two bills that are aimed at improving water quality in Long Island Sound and Lake Pontchartrain Basin.
Both the Long Island Sound and Lake Pontchartrain Basins are precious natural resources containing numerous fish and wildlife habitat and providing a variety of benefits to the surrounding communities. However, years of increased population growth, development and agricultural pressures, coupled with inadequate water quality management, have degraded these watersheds, prompting the need for additional attention.
Yet, while these watersheds share many of the same water quality concerns, their unique locations, characteristics and sources of pollution require the development of site specific plans for successful restoration. For example, the Long Island Sound watershed is bounded by some of the most heavily utilized areas of this country, and is home to more than 8 million people. As a result, increased pressures for residential, commercial and recreational development have significantly altered the landscape and have expanded the level of pollutants being discharged into the Sound.
In contrast, Lake Pontchartrain Basin is home to approximately 1.5 million people. Significant environment issues for this watershed include water and sediment pollution from urban and agricultural sources as well as saltwater intrusions from navigational waterways and the impact of freshwater diversions from the Mississippi River. It is clear that the sources of impairment for these watersheds differ dramatically.
That is why, Mr. Chairman, I am encouraged by your decision to hold this hearing on bills introduced by members from both the Long Island Sound and Lake Pontchartrain watersheds. If additional efforts are needed to restore these areas, it is good to hear from those directly related to and affected by these watersheds to get a local perspective on their restorations. I want to join you in welcoming our distinguished guests, the great Governor from the State of New York, your Governor Pataki, and our former colleague, the great Governor from Connecticut, Governor Rowland, and all of our colleagues who are here to testify on these bills. I assure them all, Mr. Chairman, that I look forward to working with you as always on a bipartisan basis to come to a solution that is good for the people in these communities.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. BOEHLERT. We are going to move it, right?
Mr. BORSKI. We are going to work on it, Mr. Chairman, yes, sir.
Mr. BOEHLERT. You are right.
Mr. HORN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I agree with you on this legislation, it is very important. But if I might for 20 seconds have Governor Pataki's interest in this. I have held a couple of hearings in New York on the Governor's Island situation as Federal surplus property, let's say. How is that coming with the State and the city? Ms. Castro was an outstanding witness, and I just wondered what is happening up to now.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Can we go to the Governor and let the Governor give his testimony.
Mr. HORN. Okay, I didn't want to mess up his testimony on this.
Mr. BOEHLERT. He will be glad to report to you on Governor's Island where I served valiantly for the U.S. Army for two years. I know it well.
But the Governor has a good plan. He will tell you about in a moment, Dr. Horn. Do you have any opening remarks?
Mr. HORN. That is it.
Mr. BOEHLERT. All right, thank you. We will be back to you on Governor's Island.
The distinguished gentlelady from the Hudson Valley, the Congresswoman who has the privilege of representing our Governor.
Mrs. KELLY. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for providing this forum today for us to discuss these two proposals. I would like to thank our panelists today, including Governor Pataki, my wonderful and distinguished Governor, and Governor Rowland. I also want to thank Mr. Pepe, Mr. Miller and Mr. Atkin, all of whom have played very significant roles in advancing the cause of Long Island Sound.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 As we will see today, restoring Long Island Sound is an effort of great importance to our region. The initiative being considered today represents the sort of intelligent approach that we must take in order to realize significant steps toward this effort. It is a good bill, and it is my hope that this Committee will do all it can to move this proposal through Congress.
While I am encouraged by the support this bill has received, I would also like to take this opportunity to point out a few areas of concern for those of us who support H.R. 3313, namely the Administration's unacceptably low funding proposals for both the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and for the effort to address the staggering lobster die-off in the Sound. If the Administration's positions on these issues are any indication, we will have work cut out for us in the coming months.
I look forward to working with the Members of the Committee, and I look froward to the testimony before it today in making it perfectly clear to the Administration just how very important this issue is. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much.
And now it is my great pleasure to welcome two very distinguished Governors to this panel. Governor Pataki, we have the home court. You are up first.
TESTIMONY OF HON. GEORGE E. PATAKI, GOVERNOR, STATE OF NEW YORK; AND HON. JOHN G. ROWLAND, GOVERNOR, STATE OF CONNECTICUT
Governor PATAKI. Thank you very much, Chairman Boehlert, and thank you for the kind introduction. Let me thank you as well for your courageous defense of Governor's Island. It was not subject to any incursion at all during the two years you were there helping defend the people of New York, and we are proud of that.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Ranking Member Borski, distinguished members of the Subcommittee, first let me thank you. When I have come down here in the past and asked for support from this Subcommittee, you have been enormously responsive. Chairman Boehlert, I have to thank you in particular. As you know, a few years back, we had the historic agreement to protect New York City's watershed. This Subcommittee has been helpful in getting us funding to monitor that watershed and make sure the quality is not degraded. So let me begin by thanking you.
And let me thank you as well for your comments about H.R. 3313, the Long Island Sound Restoration Act. I do have formal comments that I hope all of you have that I would request be submitted in full as part of the record, but I would rather just say a few comments about this bill.
Long Island Sound is incredibly important, not just to the people of New York, but to the people of America. As was indicated in the opening comments, 15 million people live in its watershed, 8 million people live on or near its shores. It has an economic impact in excess of $5 billion a year from direct activity, whether it is fishing, recreation, boating or other activities.
It has been recognized by the federal government. In 1988, the Sound was declared an estuary of national significance under the EPA's national estuary program. So I think it is broadly recognized that this is a critical area for not just New York or Connecticut, but the entire country.
We are doing a lot in New York and I know Governor Rowland is doing a great deal in Connecticut to upgrade the quality of the Sound. It has been degraded over the past decades. We do have a major problem with hypoxia, which leads to low dissolved oxygen, and the lobster die-off is just an indication that the Sound is at enormous risk and we have to take significant steps to improve its quality.
We have determined unequivocally that nitrogen loading from sewage treatment plants is one of the important factors that has led to the degradation of the quality of the Sound. I am pleased that we have both environmentalists, labor and builders behind us, because what we have to do is upgrade and improve those plants so that we can have intelligent growth and redevelopment, while at the same time improving the water quality in the Sound.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 New York State is committing more than $200 million in grants to localities and in other measures to upgrade those plants. We are restoring wetland habitat that had been destroyed. We are upgrading sewage treatment plants. We are putting in place more public access points, creating a new State park in Suffolk County on the shores of the Sound, representing literally hundreds of millions of dollars of State investment.
Connecticut is doing at least as much if not more. In 1996, Governor Rowland and I signed the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for the Sound. We have been working cooperatively in programs that are implementing that plan.
Unfortunately, while we have gotten the city of New York, local governments, county governments, to step up and do their part, we have not received the level of support from the Federal Government that we believe is warranted. The Federal Government has helped with the cleanup and improvements of Chesapeake Bay, with the Everglades, with the Great Lakes, with San Francisco Bay. But not to an appropriate level with the Long Island Sound. We believe H.R. 3313, which would provide up to $80 million a year, is an appropriate and important step that the Federal Government should take.
I also want to point out that in addition to supporting this bill, we have the problem with the lobster die-off that is ongoing. On December 9th, Governor Rowland and I both had the dubious distinction of having to write to Secretary Daley asking for Federal assistance because of that emergency. We requested $15 million. I believe Connecticut requested $20 million. The State is putting up some of our funds.
And the Clinton Administration has indicated they would provide, between both States, less than $10 million. We don't think that is adequate to deal with the problem, to do the research and to protect those who have been hurt in their livelihood because of this die-off. So that is another issue that we hope the Subcommittee can be of assistance with as we go forward.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 But most importantly, we have a tremendous opportunity. I don't think we have ever seen a time before when the State government of New York and the State government of Connecticut, when the city of New York, when the counties that are on Long Island Sound have all recognized the importance of cleaning up the Sound and not just recognized it, but are willing to commit hundreds of millions of dollars. With the help from the Federal Government comparable to the help that has been given to other estuaries and bodies of water in this country, we will not just keep the Sound where it is at today, we will dramatically improve its water quality, improve its recreational opportunities and economic opportunities for the people in the 21st century.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Governor.
Now we turn to our former colleague and good friend, Governor Rowland of Connecticut.
Governor ROWLAND. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. After listening to your opening remarks, I even hesitate to add anything. If we could just have the vote right now, I think we would be in pretty good shape.
Congressman Borski, thank you as well. And to members of the Committee, it is a pleasure to be here. For a short while, more than 10 years ago, I was even on this full Committee. I am glad to see the spirit of bipartisanship is continuing, probably more so than anywhere else in this Congress, if memory serves me right.
I want to thank my colleague from New York as well. We have been working very closely together on this issue. It is a pleasure to be on this panel with him today.
Let me say right from the onset, it would be difficult to overstate the importance of Long Island Sound to both of our economies. Most importantly, the quality of life. If you look at the Sound's impact on all of our neighboring States, and as Governor Pataki said, to the Nation as well, and we find that somewhere around 15 million people are impacted by the Sound, many of them using the Sound for fishing or boating or recreation, or even indirectly as a source of seafood or transportation. Frankly, it is one of, I think, the finest gems in our entire Nation and certainly along our east coast.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 But it all depends on our quality of life and the cleanliness of the Sound. In the most recent study which evaluated the economic value of the Long Island Sound, we are finding, as the Governor pointed out, that it has a value of close to $5.5 billion per year. That includes a revitalized shellfishing industry, which has happened because of our improvements in the water quality. Now we are finding our renowned oysters are being exported throughout the world.
The Long Island Sound's combination of natural resources, environmental significance, recreational value, the proximity to a large, diverse population, makes it one of the most valuable assets on the east coast. And with the guidance of the Long Island Sound Study, the States of Connecticut and New York have been working hard to implement management activities that are critical to the restoration of the Sound.
Our commitment, the States' commitment and the Federal commitment needs to be improved and enhanced. It is embraced a number of things; infrastructure improvements of sewage treatment facility plants, research, planning, management, outreach responsibilities, you name it, I think we have all been involved in those. We have a nationally recognized tidal wetland restoration program. We are increasing our restoration efforts for wetlands and other important habitats. We are also continuing our efforts to acquire and manage publicly accessible open space, which has been one of our major priorities in our Administration.
And while Connecticut needs substantial Federal support to address the management needs, our sewer treatment plant upgrades, for nitrogen reduction, remain our single biggest ticket item for the State's clean water fund. And as we have learned through the study, nitrogen is the key ingredient, causing low dissolved oxygen levels in Long Island Sound. And our success in restoring the Sound will be largely measured by the amount of nitrogen that can be removed from the active sources throughout the watershed.
In partnership with the EPA and the Long Island Sound study, we put the majority of our clean water funds towards reducing nitrogen loads to the Sound. We are pleased to point out that substantial progress has been made.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 In 1990, Connecticut began implementing a nitrogen control program for 15 sewage treatment plants in the key areas throughout southwestern Connecticut. We sought to use retrofits to reduce the aggregate loading from those sewage plants by 25 percent, using a $15 million grant program from our State clean water revolving fund.
The program has been very successful. Connecticut is now building upon those first modest steps with full scale reconstruction projects being planned or constructed in Branford, Fairfield, Norwalk, Simsbury, Stamford and Waterbury, among a number of others. Statewide, these and similar projects have put Connecticut ahead of the curve in nitrogen control.
As an example, in 1990, in Connecticut, the sewage treatment plants were contributing about 9,000 tons of nitrogen per year to Long Island Sound. Today the nitrogen contribution to the Sound from these same sewage treatment plants is down to 8,200 tons of nitrogen per year, which is about a 10 percent statewide reduction. Once the full scale reconstruction projects that we have listed below, once they are completed, we expect to reduce our nitrogen load to 6,200 tons per year, which is a 30 percent reduction from 1990. This has been possible because of our commitment through the State's clean water fund and I think it is worked well.
To meet the nitrogen reduction targets established by the Long Island Sound Study, the Sound's nitrogen load would need to be reduced by about 64 percent. To cost effectively fulfill this task, we plan to institute a nitrogen credit trading program, which the Long Island Sound Study has developed over the last few years. This would be one of the largest trading programs for water quality control in the country. We expect it will speed up our implementation schedule by reducing the costs of nitrogen removal from sewage treatment plants by as much as $200 million in our State.
I am pleased that the Long Island Sound Restoration Act supports watershed permitting and a nitrogen trading program so essential to successful implementation of management actions to clean up the Sound. I support that concept and concurrently the Connecticut General Assembly is considering a bill to facilitate the trading program at the State level as well.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Unfortunately, even with the cost effective trading program, Connecticut cities and towns and certainly taxpayers are looking at substantial costs to implement the reductions at the sewage treatment plants. We estimate the cost to be in the range of $400 million to $700 million by the year 2014.
Given the scale of the proposed reductions to meet our targets, the widespread research, the implementation and the management needs, both in Connecticut and New York, and the potential need for additional nitrogen reductions beyond the current program, we need significant Federal support. This bill proposes to increase support for implementation activities to $20 million through the year 2003.
At the same time, the bill would provide added incentives for distressed communities, both in Connecticut and New York, in the form of lower interest rates to ensure our local sewer rates do not overburden many of our communities. Representative Nancy Johnson and all of your colleagues in the House are to be commended for creating the mechanism by which the Federal Government can step up and assist our bi-State efforts to restore the Long Island Sound.
While this bill will allow us to address the specific technical needs of nitrogen reduction and sewage treatment plant upgrades, we should remember that Connecticut and other States also need Federal support for the broader range of coastal and management needs. In fact, the progress we have achieved in reducing nitrogen inputs as well as the program of continuing improvements which are in the bill are the fruits of longstanding programs of planning and management and research, particularly the Long Island Sound Study and Connecticut's coastal management program, which I should mention are celebrating their 15th and 20th anniversaries.
As we move forward in improving Long Island Sound, it will be essential to maintain and improve our commitment to research and coastal management programs. Let me conclude by saying that the Sound is a water body that equals any of our Nation's estuaries in beauty, economic value, cultural value and environmental importance.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 The States of Connecticut and New York have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to clean up the Sound with our dollars and with our action. Your additional Federal commitment to the States and to the Long Island Sound Study is highly opportune and most welcome. We need the proposed increase in funding for our State's clean water fund, as New York does. And today, State revolving funds are being asked not only to fund basic infrastructure and nitrogen removal needs at the plants, but are increasingly called upon as an environmental management resource to address an array of estuary management issues, including non-point source control, land use planning and habitat restoration.
We have done much, but we are limited without a growing commitment from the Federal Government and an increase in real dollars. For this reason and many others, I want to express my strong support and the strong support of my staff and others that are here with us today, and most importantly, we thank you for your consideration and your strong commitment as well.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Governor.
You are correct in your observation that this Committee does work well in a bipartisan basis. Governor Pataki, you are correct, we are not putting nearly enough money into this issue. This Committee on a bipartisan basis, I might stress, for example, has expressed disappointment at the budget this year submitted by the Administration, calling for a cut of some $500 million in the amount of money we put into the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.
But to calm you down a little bit, we are going to restore it. There's no question about that. And both sides of the aisle agree on that.
Governor Pataki, let me start off by asking you what New York is doing with the resource made available under the Environmental Bond Act to restore the Long Island Sound watershed? And before you respond, just let me point out, Governor Pataki did what people said couldn't be done, he got the voters of the State of New York to support a $1.7 billion environmental bond issue, which was applauded by environmentalists all over the country. It had been tried before and people didn't succeed. Under your leadership, we did succeed in New York, and I thank you for that.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Tell us how it is working in Long Island.
Governor PATAKI. Well, thank you, Chairman Boehlert. It is working very well. It is working, not just the $200 million specifically targeted to Long Island Sound water quality improvement, but we are putting in additional funds from the bond act for doing things like purchasing open space. I mentioned we have a new State park, the Nissequogue State Park, of what used to be a major State facility that had closed down. It was available for development, and a great many developers wanted to build on Long Island, because it is so economically strong right now.
We were able to take the most sensitive parts of that property, all the shoreline, more than 100 acres, and make it a new State park that not only will provide great recreational opportunities for New Yorkers, but also improve the environmental quality as we tear up parking lots and tear down abandoned buildings and replace them with lawns and woods.
So in addition to that, of the $200 million specifically targeted for Long Island Sound, I have just announced another $50 million in grants to local governments, bringing the total to $84 million, mostly for sewage plant retrofitting and upgrading. Governor Rowland talked about how they have already reduced by 10 percent the nitrogen loading.
We have to do the same thing, retrofit, particularly in New York City. One of the largest projects is to work on the combined sewer outfall problem in New York City, which is very severe after a major rainstorm. More than $30 million this year is going to a project in the Bronx in New York City for that purpose.
We are also doing things like restoring wetlands that have been paved over because these wetlands act as natural filters and help with the quality of life and the water quality in Long Island Sound. So we are doing the gamut, from preserving open space, restoring wetlands, upgrading sewage treatment plants, retrofitting sewage treatment plants, working on the sewer system to end the overflow problem into the Sound, mostly with State dollars, some city and local dollars.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 But just as one example, the estimated cost for New York City to solve just its sewer outfall problem is $583 million. This is a very expensive ongoing project that is not going to be done in a day. And we desperately need the Federal Government to come in and join with Connecticut, join with the local governments and the State of New York in making sure we clean up the Sound.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much.
Governor Rowland, maybe this is too specific and you might want to have your staff people get back to us with a more detailed response. But the Connecticut DEP has stated that the proposed trading credit program could save $200 million over a 15 year period. Could you tell us a little bit about that? How would those savings be achieved?
Governor ROWLAND. Well, by building partnerships. When you look back, we started the clean water fund in 1986. From that time, we have spent about $1.1 billion. Over the last five years, during my time as Governor, we have spent about $500 million and during this next two-year budget cycle, we will be spending about $240 million.
So we want to get involved in using a credit swap which will afford more involvement and more participation in making those expenditures. So we are going to be running it through the DEP and it should work out pretty well.
Mr. BOEHLERT. That is super. I am not surprised that you have got a program like that that you are advocating. I want to thank you both.
Mr. BORSKI. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just want to thank our distinguished panelists for their comments and testimony today. It is good to hear that the State and local governments are doing their part, and I do believe the Federal Government should help out as much as possible, as well.
I did want to mention, however, that we do have difficult budget caps here. If we are operating either under those caps or under what some are suggesting to be a freeze, it is difficult to find money for new programs, even ones that are as worthy as this. But I can assure you, I look forward to working with the Chairman on a bipartisan basis. This Committee always does that, it was noted. And hopefully, we can find the money for something that is well deserved.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much.
Mr. HORN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to ask both Governors, are there any areas on the mainland opposite Long Island and on Long Island where there's a fresh water deficit, and what is your thinking in this plan in relation to freshwater supplies and the degree to which salinization might be an option?
Governor PATAKI. Long Island, always because of its developmental pressures, has significant questions with water quality and quantity. What we are doing there is being very protective of the aquifer recharge zones. In particular, there's an area of eastern Long Island called the Pine Barrens. We entered into a historic compact there, where we are not going to allow development in the core area, 100,000 acres of those pine barrens. And the State, with the county government, is either purchasing those properties or purchasing those development rights, or are allowing the owners to transfer development rights to areas outside that critical environmentally sensitive area.
Also, this Subcommittee has been so helpful with water quality assistance for the New York City watershed, and I have to thank my Congresswoman, Congresswoman Kelly. Because most of your district is in the New York City watershed area. This historic compact will, I believe, provide for the maintenance of the water quality there without having to go through the expense of filtration. We don't want to degrade the water quality and then have to clean it. We want to keep the water quality pristine in the reservoir areas. And Congresswoman Kelly has been enormously helpful in working with the local communities and the county governments to make that happen.
So we have, I believe, taken the necessary steps to protect the New York City and Westchester drinking water quality situation. We are still worrying about Long Island, but we are going to do things like purchase additional space in the Pine Barrens and other recharge areas to make sure we protect that aquifer.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. HORN. Is desalinization one option?
Governor PATAKI. Desalinization is always an option. But my understanding is that the economics of desalinization is more expensive at this point. I don't know. You are the doctor, you probably have greater technical information on it. I am always willing and interested in supporting new technologies as they come along.
Mr. HORN. I am looking for a California-New York solution. Governor Rowland?
Governor ROWLAND. We do not have any fresh water problems. Probably lucked out in that regard. So we are not facing the same issues that perhaps you are facing in New York.
Mr. HORN. Now, in my remaining time, how about Governors Island? Where are you?
Governor PATAKI. Congressman, we have reached agreement with the City of New York on a plan for Governor's Island. It is a comprehensive and sound plan that preserves the historic buildings, allows for private sector development of some of the existing buildings and leaves most of it as open space and an environmentally sound area that would be used for recreation for the people of New York, and indeed of America.
We think it is an excellent program. We have created a new operating subsidiary under our Empire State Development Corporation and we are virtually ready to go. The problem is that the President indicated at one point that he would transfer Governor's Island for $1. It is in this year's budget at, I think, $340 million, which is not quite $1.
I have told Senator Moynihan we would double our offer. We would go from $1 to $2, but we can't go to $340 million. So we are hopeful that Congress will recognize that this is something that, if the transfer occurs, we will assume the costs with the City of New York, assume the liability with the City of New York and turn it into a public showplace, in many ways similar to Williamsburg, that people not just from New York, but the country, will be very proud of.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. HORN. Well, thank you, that is very helpful.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much.
Mrs. KELLY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to point out at this point that my colleague, Ellen Tauscher, and I have a bill before this Committee. It is a reauthorization of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. In that bill, we provide for $3 billion a year. The Administration has asked for $800 million, just to give you a contrast. And the enacted level right now is $1.35 billion. So we are trying the best we can to give you some help.
We also provide in that bill the 2 percent negative interest loans, the principal called for the principal write-down, and for the distressed communities. But I wonder what extent your States have used this State Revolving Fund loans to clean up the Sound, and how much our subsidy and others would help.
Also, I would like to have you elaborate on how much you believe the Federal Government should contribute to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. I will take anybody who wants to answer that right now.
Governor ROWLAND. According to my DEP Commissioner, he indicates that we used about $100 million a year of that, and about $13 million to $15 million is Federal. The rest would be State.
Mrs. KELLY. A hundred million of that would go tothat you are currently using?
Governor ROWLAND. Right.
Mrs. KELLY. And in your testimony, did you give us an estimate that I missed, or how much more would you think that you would need, if we were able to get a $3 billion traunch available to you, not just to your State, but to the United States in general?
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Governor ROWLAND. Well, that is a moving target, and I will tell you why. As you continue to upgrade the sewage treatment facilities, we are doing 15, I think we have in the works at this time. We have spent since 1986 about $1 billion. And we are trying to hit the goals of the nitrogen reduction.
So we will spend another $240 million in the next two years. That spending cycle will probably continue. And if you think about it, of the $1.1 billion that we have spent since 1986, there was of that amount probably about $245 million was actually Federal dollars. So again, there's another contrast.
One of the things I was thinking of, as you were making comments and Congressman Borski made the comments as well about the spending caps and some of the constraints that you face. It is been my experience that many people come to Washington asking for Federal support, when they don't have their investment on the table yet. And this is one of the, I think unique, circumstances where the States or some other entity has been well vested in this, to a great degree. If we were to look at ratios, certainly our investments are far greater than the Federal dollars that we have gotten over the last 15 years.
So this is a time when we come together for some financial support, as we see in the bill, Federal support. But indeed, we have been making major investments on the State level for quite some time. And we will continue probably spending that for a number of years.
Mrs. KELLY. Thank you.
Governor PATAKI. I think Governor Rowland's comment is very important. Because both New York and Connecticut have been out in front of the Federal Government with our financial commitment to the Sound. And we are not asking the Federal Government to do anything that we are not prepared to do, because we have been doing it. The $200 million are direct grants, and that doesn't even include the revolving loan funds, which hundreds of millions more have gone into the Sound. I don't have those figures today.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 But just one other point, Congressman Borski, on the budget caps. I remember it was, I think, in the late 1980s, when we were out picketing in Westchester County, because the Sound was in bad shape and the sewage treatment plants were in worse shape. The solution that the Government was looking at was to completely shut down development in Westchester County. It would have lowered the tax base, would have prevented companies that are developing new technologies to locate in New York. It would have had a negative effect on our economy, I mean, people might not have even been able to move to Chappaqua if we hadn't been able to fend off that moratorium on construction.
But we came to the intelligent conclusion that this is an investment that doesn't just pay back in the form of cleaner water and a better quality of life, but it allows for expanded economic growth and opportunity when you do it in an intelligent way. The Federal Government is thankfully gaining revenues because of the strong economy. If we had moratoriums because we couldn't deal with pollution, we would have less revenue to the Federal Government, a weaker economy and not the ability to make this investment in future generations.
So this isn't a spending program where you take the dollars, you spend them, they're gone. This is an investment where you take the dollars, you clean up the Sound, and you create the climate where we can continue economic growth and continue to see our tax base and economy expand.
Mrs. KELLY. I thank you very much, both of you, for pointing out the tremendous need for us to support your efforts, and the fact you have already been there. I am very hopeful that we are going to be able to get the monies that are in 3313. But I also am hopeful that we are going to be able to pass that Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund at a very well funded level.
Governor PATAKI. Congresswoman, thank you for that bill. That would be enormously helpful to New York if you can get that passed.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much. Governors, we would like to thank you both. It is a privilege to hear from you and your messages will not only be heard, but hopefully heeded. We are friends on this Committee.
Thank you very much.
Governor PATAKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Governor ROWLAND. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Our next panel consists of six of our colleagues. We will hear them in two phases. The first phase will be the Connecticut-New York members talking about Long Island Sound. That panel will consist of Congresswoman Nancy Johnson, Congressman Gary Ackerman, Congressman Chris Shays, and the cleanup hitter, Congressman Rick Lazio.
And then we will have the second panel, Congressman Bill Jefferson and Congressman David Vitter, to talk about the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Act.
Congresswoman Johnson, you are up first.
TESTIMONY OF HON. NANCY JOHNSON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM CONNECTICUT; HON. GARY ACKERMAN, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM CONNECTICUT; HON. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM CONNECTICUT; HON. RICK LAZIO, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM NEW YORK
Mrs. JOHNSON. Thanks, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate this opportunity to testify before your Subcommittee on what is an extremely important initiative, not only from the point of view of Connecticut and New York, but from the point of view of the entire Nation.
I am going to make my statement, then unfortunately I do have to leave. I am supposed to be in the midst of chairing a hearing as well. So I will leave the questions and answers to my able colleagues from both parties.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Let me just breeze through a few things. I don't want to be too repetitive. But Connecticut has 85 water treatment plants. Every single one of them will have to be altered if we are going to meet our goals in cleaning up Long Island Sound.
Winchester, Connecticut has a small public water system, 2,500 customers. They already have $15 million in debt from the former clean water requirements that we have placed on them. There is truly a limit to how much debt small towns and small cities can bear for whatever purpose. So one of the most important parts of this legislation is the clear legislative authority for States to be able to provide a greater component of grants to recognize tax bases that haven't grown in decades, to recognize distressed community needs and so on.
The Mattabasset district, the sewer authority on which New Britain, Connecticut, depends, would have to raise its rates 100 percent in order to do what has to be done to meet the Long Island Sound requirements. And yet New Britain, which was once a manufacturing hub of the northeast, has been very slow to feel even the effects of this wonderful period of economic growth in our Nation.
So with manufacturing drying up in some of these small cities, the resource base dried up. So the resources are really strained to provide the needs of special ed, and they're the very towns withit is bludgeoning, bursting special ed budgets and so on. So I do want you to see the importance of the sort of subsidiary provisions in this bill. Certainly the funding level is very, very important to us. But this right to tailor the program to communities in need is a very important right.
As to the trading program, for example, some of my small towns, no matter how much they put in, they're going to affect the nitrogen level very little by the time it gets down to Long Island Sound. If they put a quarter of that money into enabling Bridgeport to do more aggressive changes to their treatment plant, then much more nitrogen would be kept out of Long Island Sound for much less cost.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 So the trading program is critical not only to assuring that we maximize our effort to keep nitrogen out of the sound, but that we do it in a way that frankly, little water companies can tolerate and the taxpayers who support them can tolerate.
Remember, around Long Island Sound live 10 percent of all Americans. It is the most populated, the most visited, the most traveled area. Our ports, which aren't often thought of by those in the rest of the country, handle incoming freight from national and international sources. It is the source, into Connecticut ports comes most of the home heating oil for New England, 622,000 tons of steel came in in 1997, not just for Connecticut, but all of New England. It is the fourth largest port for the entry of steel products in the United Sates, after New Orleans, Houston and Philadelphia.
Lumber exports are big leaving the port of New London. In 1998, New York and Connecticut caught $23.8 million worth of clams and oysters in the Sound. So if you aren't enjoying the Sound for recreational purposes, you are probably depending on the products that come into its ports, or are consuming the production of its wonderful sea water.
It is a body in which we have a national interest. And it is appropriate that the national government help us form a stronger partnership to clean it up. I would just remind you that Boston Harbor received $840 million to help clean it up. And that the Great Lakes receives $13 million a year, has since 1991 and so on and so forth.
I covered the other points earlier in my testimony. So thank you very much. Lastly, let me say, help us.
Thank you for holding this hearing early. We appreciate the Chairman's co-sponsorship of this legislation, a rare effort on his behalf. I don't know if Mr. Borski is a co-sponsor
Mr. BOEHLERT. We are working on him.
Mrs. JOHNSON. We would welcome you aboard as well. Thanks to my colleagues for being here and for taking the responsibility for answering questions throughout the rest of this hearing.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you so much.
Mr. Ackerman. And it is not our intention to ask our colleagues any questions. We will have your testimony and then we will get on to the next panel. Because we know how demanding your respective schedules are.
Mr. ACKERMAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank my colleagues, especially Congresswoman Johnson, who's just departing, for her leadership, as well as my friend and neighbor on Long Island, Rick Lazio, who worked so closely with me, and Chris Shays from across the Sound who is a leader in so many areas, for whom we have the greatest respect.
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to testify today on the restoration of the Long Island Sound, which is a topic that is so important to the millions of people who reside by and who visit the Sound. I would like to commend you, Mr. Chairman, for your diligence and commitment to preserving our environment across the Nation, including and especially Long Island. I encourage you to continue to be parochialyou are allowed to do that, especially in this area.
And Mr. Borski, thank you very much for your dynamic leadership in the areas of the environment as well.
I am honored to be here, as we all are, with the Governors of both of our States to testify on this very important bill. I am proud to represent an area that has a very long border along the Long Island Sound. The Sound, as you know, is one of our Nation's national treasures, with important environmental, recreational and commercial benefits. Its value as an essential habitat for one of the most diverse ecosystems of the northeast cannot be understated.
Residents and vacationers alike enjoy the Sound for swimming and boating. The approximately $5 billion in revenue generated by commerce relating to the Sound is vital to the region and to individuals especially who base their livelihood on the benefits of the Sound.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Unfortunately, the effects of millions of people on the shore and within the Sound's watershed are evidenced in the deteriorated water quality. Over the last several years, the Long Island Sound has suffered from numerous forms of pollution, including toxic chemicals, floating debris, illegally dumped contaminants, runoffs from fertilizer and road salt as well as pathogen contamination.
However, the Sound's most pressing problem is hypoxia, a deficit of oxygen in the water caused in good measure by nitrogen from sewage treatment plants. In fact, hypoxia is cited as the cause for a drop in the Sound's fish population.
As a result, pollution is threatening Long Island Sound's multi-billion dollar a year fishing industry. The most recent and devastating example is the unexplained and widespread lobster die-off. The lobster mortalities were first observed in western Long Island in the fall of 1998. A similar, more severe and more extensive phenomena began in the fall of 1999 and continues today.
The Secretary of Commerce last month determined a commercial fishing failure under the Magnuson-Stephens Act. We must supply adequate resources to address lobster die-off and to examine possible problems in the water that could have caused this crisis.
Preservation of the Long Island Sound is not merely a parochial issue, but it is a national one. By its inclusion as a charter member in the National Estuaries Program, the Sound has been designated as one of only 28 estuaries of national significance. Congress has already recognized the national importance of the Long Island Sound by creating the Long Island Sound Study, which involved Federal, State and local entities along with universities, environmental groups, industry and the general public.
The study culminated in the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, or CCMP. This was a joint effort of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the States of New York and Connecticut. It has been conducted under the provisions of the Clean Water Act, which is arguably our country's most important law for the protection of our water resources.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 This 100 plus page document has detailed the many challenges which face the Long Island Sound. Again, most important among these problems is the condition of hypoxia caused largely by untreated sewage and other types of pollution. The low level of oxygen that kills fish and other forms of wildlife, disrupts the Sound's entire food chain.
The Study also details the problems of floating garbage, of biological contamination, of industrial waste and in short, all of the things that plague us as a modern society.
We are now ready to move into the implementation phase of the CCMP and the time to act is now. The $80 million which we ask you, Mr. Chairman, and you, Mr. Borski, and members of the Committee to authorize under this legislation is essential for the implementation of remedial efforts to clean up the Long Island Sound.
I am very pleased, as all of the original co-sponsors, which are exclusively at this point members from the New York and Connecticut delegations, and it is now going to be open to everybody else
Mr. BOEHLERT. We have already acknowledged that we will allow Mr. Borski into our exclusive club.
Mr. ACKERMAN. I am glad we have made that concession, Mr. Chairman. I think that is an important one.
And I am pleased that our Governors have shown up today, check books in hand, with $80 million in matching funds. I am confident that these funds will have a significant impact on the ongoing efforts to improve the quality of the Sound. We must do everything possible to assure the continued funding of these efforts, and this legislation is the appropriate means for achieving the desired end.
Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member, we thank you again for this opportunity and for your attention to this very important matter.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Mr. Ackerman.
I would like to point out that the Chair got involved in this issue because one evening I was summoned to the office of my colleagues, Congressman Lazio. Seated there was Congresswoman Johnson. For the next half hour or so, I heard the most passionate and compelling case ever made for a piece of legislation.
So I had no alternative, when I walked out, I was just absolutely convinced.
Mr. SHAYS. Mr. Chairman, does that mean he doesn't need to do his statement, and we can go right to me?
Mr. BOEHLERT. No, I just want to give the Congressman his due. Because he has been a real leader in this effort. The New York and Connecticut delegations are pretty much coming together in this one. But you need a spark. And Rick Lazio and Nancy Johnson have provided that spark.
Mr. LAZIO. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Let me begin by returning the compliment, because I think in this Nation's capital, you stand by yourself in terms of being an environmental star. You are out there protecting ecosystems and parks from sterling forests to the west coast to south. And now focusing yourself, and adding your name is a co-sponsor and having this hearing for the Long Island Sound, you are once again proving what a stalwart you are.
I want to thank the rest of the Committee as well, and Mr. Borski, for your great help.
I am very proud to, very frankly, be able to testify with Gary Ackerman, my colleague and friend, and Chris Shays, and the lead sponsor, Nancy Johnson, to talk about something I think has great importance, not just for our region, but our Nation.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 I would ask you, Mr. Chairman and the rest of the Committee, to try and visualize for a moment, if you can, Yellowstone National Park, really one of America's great national jewels. Conservation managers at that park agonize over the prospect of trying to manage about 3 million visitors who come annually to experience its beauty. They worry about the health of its sensitive ecosystems and the ability of that natural wonder to handle the stresses that the populations put on that system.
But I would now like you to try and visualize that park with 8 million people living directly on the borders, with another 15 million people living within 50 miles of that same body. I don't need to spell out the stresses that this situation would place on the natural system. I don't think I need to detail how the ability of that park to meet the recreational needs of our citizens would be degraded. And I don't think I need to detail how much this Nation would pay to maintain that jewel for the enjoyment of all.
Mr. Chairman, that picture I just described is one we are living with today in the Long Island Sound. This 150 mile long estuary is one of America's natural, multiple-use jewels, providing recreational outlets, commercial fishing, shellfishing and vital transportation corridors for the most heavily populated portion of this Nation. Like Yellowstone, the Sound is a major asset to the regional economy, generating over $5 billion annually.
As Congressman Johnson mentioned, a full 10 percent of this Nation's people live on or near this body of water. To many of these people, the Sound is their opportunity to escape the multitudes, to get in touch with the great outdoors, to escape for the moment the stresses of working and managing the enterprises that are fueling this Nation's economic success.
For these hardworking Americans, a trip to the Long Island Sound is a chance to spend some quality time with their families, a chance to leave behind the stresses of modern day life, a chance to swim and boat and fish. To others, the Sound is a livelihood, a way of life so dramatically removed from the Wall Streets and the Madison Avenues that exist only a few miles away.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 This America is one of a lonely lobsterman who sails out every morning to check his traps, or a fisherman trying to land the special of the day for a Manhattan restaurant. This American works in a marina fixing his boats, or in a restaurant serving morning coffee to the sailors.
But to all these Americans, the Sound is increasingly less able to meet their essential needs. Pollution problems in the Sound have degraded the recreational experience. It has reduced the fish and shellfish population. And pollution in the Sound has at least contributed to the dramatic decline in the lobster population that Congressman Ackerman has just referenced.
The Sound's problems are directly located to its location in the heart of America's largest metropolis, a region that has contributed greatly to our Nation's phenomenal economic success. Like much of our region, nearly the entire Long Island Sound coastline is developed. Fifty percent of the natural shoreline has been hardened with erosion protection structures. We have lost up to one-third, or 35 percent, of our vegetated wetlands, resulting in lost habitat and increased flood potential.
Runoff has increased as a result of the development and paving much of the watershed, bringing not only sediments to the Sound but also runoff from urban life, like oil and household chemicals. Over a billion gallons of treated effluent is discharged daily from our sewage plantsimagine thatadding to the nitrogen load which promotes marine plant life, creating hypoxia, which again, Congressman Ackerman has referenced the condition where the water lacks oxygen, killing our fish and shellfish.
As a result of all these stresses, we now have large areas of the Sound with impaired habitat, reduced productivity in our wetlands, contamination in some bays and harbor bottoms, and dramatic reductions in our lobster and crab harvest. We have not been good stewards, Mr. Chairman, of this important ecosystem.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 We have also experienced periodic beach closures, while our prime shellfish beds have been closed for years. The States of New York and Connecticut recognize the value of the Long Island Sound and as the Governors have just testified, they are ready and willing to do their share. But they need our help. And I want to applaud both Governors Pataki and Rowland for their leadership.
The only partner not yet at the table, Mr. Chairman, is us. The bill before you makes the Federal Government a full partner in this critical enterprise. It recognizes that the Sound has moved from a planning phase to implementation. It recognizes that cleaning up our pollution problems is not cheap, but is a good investment. It also recognizes that the health and vitality of the Sound is important to the health and vitality of all of our country, that 10 percent of our Nation's population needs an outdoors to go.
Mr. Chairman, today I have two small children. I want them to be able to have that same advantage, the same advantage that I have had growing up in and around the Sound. This bill will give them that opportunity.
I want to thank you for your time, for your energy and your commitment. You are a terrific partner, and I couldn't think of a better Chairman to work with. I yield back whatever time I have.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you, Mr. Lazio.
Our final witness on this panel will be Mr. Shays. But before he starts, I just want to say to our colleagues from Louisiana, thank you very much for your patience. We decided to do it in two phases, and you will be up next.
Mr. Shays, the floor is yours. I will have to take leave immediately after your testimony, and then I will be back. Congressman Sherwood, the distinguished Vice Chairman, will be in the Chair.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. SHAYS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and Ranking Member Borski.
As a co-chair of the Long Island Sound Caucus with Nita Lowey, I am here to support the Johnson-Lazio-Ackerman legislation. We are really concerned about Long Island Sound. We have long been concerned, and we are even more so now. Long Island Sound is literally dying. It is dying because too many people live around it and impact it. The watershed goes all the way up to Vermont and New Hampshire.
We knew that we were achieving success with getting out the toxins, and then we realized we were fertilizing the Sound and causing plant growth and plants died and consumed the oxygen. But our latest wakeup call is the dying off literally of all the lobsters. These are the most durable creatures in the Sound, the last of the food chain. The lobstermen would usually get 400 pounds a day. Now they're getting 7 pounds a day. They would throw back thousands of pounds. They would throw back four lobsters for every one they kept.
And really what they were doing is feeding the lobsters. They would come and they would be fed, and the lobstermen probably handled each lobster a hundred times before they finally kept it, because it was now of legal size. They're not even getting throwbacks. They're not even seeing lobsters with eggs. So we know we have a pressing problem here. We have got to work overtime, and I don't see how it happens without the help of the Federal Government. We just urge you to do anything you can.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much.
And now I want to thank all my colleagues for their testimony. Now we will go to subpanel B of panel two, consisting of our good friends and colleagues from Louisiana, the Honorable William Jefferson and the Honorable David Vitter. Gentleman, thank you for your patience, I do appreciate it. Mr. Jefferson, you are up first.
TESTIMONY OF HON. WILLIAM JEFFERSON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM LOUISIANA; AND HON. DAVID VITTER, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM LOUISIANA
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2
Mr. JEFFERSON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to thank you and Mr. Borski and the members of this Committee for permitting us to make a statement. Mine will be very brief, because I have a Ways and Means Committee waiting for me to show up and do my job there.
But it is important, I have shown up here before this Committee with Bob Livingston, when he represented the district that Dave Vitter now represents. We have worked on a bipartisan basis on the issues around our city, and in our region. We are going to continue to do that with Dave Vitter under his leadership. In fact, he is leading this charge to bring some framework to the Federal Government addressing the issues around Lake Pontchartrain, a valuable waterway in our region.
Some 50 years ago, maybe a little bit more than that, the Corps of Engineers made a decision as to how they were going to manage the Mississippi River. And the debate was over whether they would channelize the river with levies and the rest, control it that way, whether they would cut spillways throughout the length of the thing to let the high waters recede into some bodies of water that it encountered as it made its way downstream.
Well, they decided to channelize the river. But in our case, they decided to do both things. They channelized the river and they also, as a part of the flood control package, when the river gets really high down where we are, we open the flood gates and it gets into Lake Pontchartrain and of course pollutes the thing miserably.
We also have other sources of pollutants as well. But I think the national response is due, because we are a part of the national flood control system. And although it doesn't happen every year that that occurs, when it does occur, it takes years to try and get it right. We frankly haven't applied ourselves well enough to do that.
So it is important to pass this bill to restore Lake Pontchartrain Basin. It is one of the largest estuaries in the Continental United States. The lake provides a diverse ecology essential to the habitat that supports numerous species of fish, birds, mammals and plants. And it also serves, of course, and this is what I have already said, as a major storm water runoff for sewage and septic tank discharges, animal waste from nearby farms, it contains herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, runoff from construction sediments and other sources of pollution from a number of States and from a number of parishes that abut the river system and that abut Lake Pontchartrain.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 So the State of Louisiana and surrounding parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Bernard, and local universities, and particularly the University of New Orleans, and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation have done an excellent job of addressing these issues and are working together to restore the basin and improve the water quality for the citizens of Louisiana and for the visitors to our beautiful State that made tremendous contributions in manpower and in money and in expertise and other resources to help bring back this basin.
This legislation is to bring some Federal framework and attention to it, by requiring the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to establish the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Program within the EPA, directing the Administrator of the EPA to establish Lake Pontchartrain Executive Council, assist the Council in developing a comprehensive multi-use watershed management plan for the restoration and protection of the basin, and providing funding and oversight for voluntary restoration projects for the basin, among other important provisions.
So I am here with a new colleague, Dave Vitter, to push for some framework, as I have said, to help address these important issues in our region. There is a Federal responsibility here that I hope this Committee will help us to address.
I am going to leave Dave all by himself and take off to my Ways and Means Committee meeting. But I do thank you for giving me a chance to make comments to you briefly in support of this legislation. Thank you very much.
Mr. SHERWOOD [ASSUMING CHAIR]. Thank you, Congressman.
Congressman David Vitter?
Mr. VITTER. Thank you, Mr. Vice Chairman, and Ranking Member Borski, for setting up this hearing. We certainly do appreciate it, and we want to thank all of the members of the Subcommittee.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 I am honored to be joined by my colleague Congressman Jefferson. Also Richard Baker wanted to be here, he's a member of the Subcommittee, he's just getting back into town today. So he couldn't make it.
We just heard about the Long Island Sound, clearly a very important body of water, not just for that region, but nationally. Lake Pontchartrain is another such very important body of water. The Basin, Lake Pontchartrain Basin, is about 5,000 square miles, and encompasses 16 parishes in southeast Louisiana and four counties in Mississippi. It is one of the largest estuaries in the United States.
At the center of the Basin is Lake Pontchartrain, 630 square miles, the second largest lake in the United States after the Great Lakes. It is surrounded by almost 1.5 million residents, making it the most populated area of Louisiana.
Over the last 60 years, a lot of negative influences have harmed that ecosystem. Wetlands loss, human activities, natural forces, all have had adverse impacts on the Basin. Wetlands around the Basin have been drained, dredged, filled and channeled for oil and gas development. Storm water discharges, inadequate wastewater treatment and agricultural activities have significantly degraded water quality.
Loss of wetlands due to subsistence, saltwater intrusion and hurricanes, have also harmed the Basin wildlife population and placed 13 species, 13 species, on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service threatened or endangered species list. Congressman Jefferson mentioned another key factor, a conscious decision by the Federal Government through the Corps of Engineers to regulate the level of the Mississippi River, part of flood protection for virtually half of the country has had a direct negative impact on Lake Pontchartrain.
And so what is the result of all this? Today, swimming is still not allowed on the south shore of the lake, due to the high levels of pollution. Because of all this, last September I introduced one of my first pieces of legislation, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Act of 1999. And this is designed to facilitate and accelerate the restoration, maintenance and cleanup of what truly is one of America's most significant bodies of water and surrounding ecosystems.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Now, this bill that we are talking about today will create a coordinated, technically sound program for the restoration and sustainable health of the Pontchartrain ecosystem. It will create the Lake Pontchartrain Executive Council, which will be responsible for coordinating program efforts and providing resources for various Federal, State and local government agencies to reduce pollution and restore the Basin to ecological health.
Since introducing the bill several months ago, I have held town hall meetings on the bill in Louisiana. We have met with literally hundreds of citizens and local elected officials to get their input. And their response has been overwhelming and enthusiastic. These meetings were important in that they affirmed the strong support of folks in the area for the continued restoration of Lake Pontchartrain. And they also yielded almost unanimous support for expanding the originally proposed executive council to embrace a slightly enlarged representation of the area.
Also, in an effort to assure that restoration continues to occur in a timely and efficient manner, many of my constituents asked that the bill language that refers to a comprehensive, multi-use watershed management plan be replaced with slightly different language that focuses on positive restoration efforts and not any additional regulatory authority.
I look forward to addressing these two issues with you as the bill moves forward. There are very slight modifications to the original proposal.
We heard from the folks from New York and Connecticut about the tremendous efforts that have already been made by local and particularly State government. Really, we have the same thing to brag about in the case of Lake Pontchartrain, but it is a slightly different version. We have had tremendous effort directly from the grass roots in terms of grass roots voluntary organizations led by one that you will hear from in a little bit, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
Truly outstanding community based efforts, not necessarily led by government, but led by grass roots efforts in the community to clean up the lake. And that is been led by the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, also the University of New Orleans, also the regional planning commission, which represents Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Tammany and St. Bernard parishes. So it is very a much a grass roots effort and very much a regional effort, which I think is tremendously significant.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Their past efforts and outreach programs have informed citizens throughout south Louisiana about how we can and are reducing pollution levels in the lake. And their tremendous success has given us hope for the future. For example, last summer for the first time in my lifetime, we spotted porpoises and manatees swimming in the lake. And that sight was literally unimaginable not too long ago.
This year, many of the south shore ''no swimming'' signs could come down. Those were originally put up in 1962, when I was one year old. So tremendous progress, grass roots support, regional support, but clearly to go to the next level, we need a partner in the Federal Government.
That is what this bill is about, because not all of the news on the lake is good news. For instance, on the north shore of the lake, just as some of those south shore ''no swimming'' signs are coming down, they are on the verge of erecting ''no swimming'' signs on the north shore because of different pollution issues. So there is still a long road ahead before we regain a sustainable, fully functioning ecosystem and full restoration of the lake. And we need a partner in the Federal Government to do that in the way it needs to be done.
For literally as long as I have lived, I have never known the lake to be a body of water you would consider swimming in. As I said, I was one year old when the no swimming signs started to go up. Hopefully with this new partnership, my three daughters will be able to fully expect to swim in the lake when they are my age or well before that.
I look forward to developing this partnership with the Federal Government to see that happen. It is important for my area and the region, but it is also important for the Nation, as this is truly an ecosystem of national importance.
Thank you very much. We have further witnesses on the technical aspects of the bill, and thank you again for this hearing and this opportunity.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Thank you very much, Congressman Vitter.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Ranking Member Borski.
Mr. BORSKI. Mr. Chairman, let me just congratulate Congressman Vitter for what I consider to be an outstanding statement, and to commend him for his leadership on this issue and wish him well in his efforts. I also want to commend him for his great wisdom in seeking a spot on this Committee, that he certainly understands or knew coming in that this is an area where we try to work together on a bipartisan basis for the good of the country.
Again, I just want to congratulate him for his leadership on this issue.
Mr. VITTER. Thank you very much. The first member of Congress I met face to face after my election happened to the Chairman of the full Committee, who happened to be in New Orleans for an event. I had dinner with him, and I immediately knew that my initial interest in this Committee as a place to really get things done and be productive was fully justified. He was very welcoming of my interest. Thank you.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Thank you. One slight clarification for me. I understand the pollution aspects. The saltwater infiltration happens because of what?
Mr. VITTER. Naturally there is some saltwater infiltration. Lake Pontchartrain is actually sort of a mixed bag. But there has been a lot more intrusion over the years in part because of the dredging and channel digging of the oil and gas industry. So that is one factor which has increased that intrusion and increased the negative effects of it.
Mr. SHERWOOD. In other words, there is more free flow between the lake and the bay and the Gulf?
Mr. VITTER. Yes, because basically southeast Louisiana has been channeled and dug over the last 50 years through that oil and gas production, which incidentally clearly benefits the whole of the country.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Thank you very much, Congressman.
Mr. VITTER. Thank you.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. HORN. I just want to add to this, Mr. Chairman, if I might, this is a very fine bill. The fact that you met with so many people in that area and all those elected officials should make it easy going when it comes here. Because it sounds like the people are united, and how could they not be united, given the goal. So I thank you for all you have done to work on this.
Mr. VITTER. Thank you, Mr. Horn.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Thank you.
We will merge the next two panels. So panel three and four will come up together.
Mr. David Miller, Executive Director from Albany, New York, of the National Audubon Society; Ross Pepe, of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester and Hudson Valley, from Tarrytown, New York; and Mr. John Atkin, the Executive Director of Save the Sound, Inc., from Stamford and Glen Cove. And panel four also, Mr. Tim Coulon, from Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Mr. Carlton Dufrechou, Executive Director; and from Southeast Louisiana University, Dr. William N. Norton, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences.
We will start with Mr. Miller.
TESTIMONY OF DAVID J. MILLER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY OF NEW YORK STATE; ROSS J. PEPE, PRESIDENT, CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY COUNCIL OF WESTCHESTER AND HUDSON VALLEY, INC.; JOHN ATKIN, PRESIDENT, SAVE THE SOUND, INC.; TIM COULON, PRESIDENT, JEFFERSON PARISH, LOUISIANA; CARLTON DUFRECHOU, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN BASIN FOUNDATION; AND DR. WILLIAM N. NORTON, SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA UNIVERSITY
Mr. MILLER. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I would like to have my full statement entered for the record, as well as an attachment to that material we did with the Clean Water Jobs Coalition, which I will leave for the Committee, that outlines our support of the Long Island Sound Restoration Act.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. SHERWOOD. Without objection.
Mr. MILLER. Thank you very much. Without the Long Island Sound Restoration Act our job to clean up Long Island Sound will not be able to be met as we move forward.
It is a tall order to speak after such a distinguished group, including our own Governor Pataki, who makes a challenge for each environmental advocate in New York State to be able to be as well versed in the environment as he was today. His commitment to Long Island Sound is unparalleled, as well as the other legislative leaders.
In addition to my role at National Audubon, I also chair the Governor's Long Island Sound Coastal Commission. I also co-chair the CAC for the Long Island Sound Study. I know first-hand, not only from those efforts, but also from my own personal experience, that Long Island Sound is indeed a national treasure. It is a national treasure because I grew up on Long Island Sound. That is where my conservation roots began, understanding the birds, the wildlife, the magic, the Jurassic nature of a horseshoe crab, or the magic of a fiddler crab running through the waters.
I have experienced that same wonder with my own children, 5, 7, 9 and 11, as I have taken them down from Albany, New York, to enjoy the Sound in the summers, and to enjoy the wonder of nature, and how it can fulfill all of us in our hearts. And also the wonder Long Island Sound offers to us as an opportunity, as others have spoken, for the economy and for clean water and for jobs and for a quality of life as we move forward.
It deserves just as much as the Chesapeake, the Everglades, the Great Lakes, as the San Francisco Bay, as Boston Harbor, if not more, from Congress. It is truly a national treasure. And we have a plan for Long Island Sound that you have heard about. It is science based, it is supported by citizens, it is supported by the States. We have Governors' agreements that have been outlined for the Sound, and you have heard about the Governors' commitment in dollars, the Governors from New York and Connecticut that have been so important towards this effort.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 In fact, I want to point out for the record that in New York, the construction industry council represented by my good friend Ross and I at Audubon gave Governor Pataki the Sound Guardian award last year for his outstanding leadership in New York State of trying to move forward these efforts in the cleanup of Long Island Sound.
The Governor also talked about the most diverse coalition of all for Long Island Sound, and he talked about picketing at a conference that I organized in 1982. Outside picketing was the Governor and Ross, with picket signs such as, 'Clean Our Sewers, not Kuwait's', and 35 percent unemployment or 1 percent nitrogen, 'which is fair.'
And let me share with you now that what we were able to do on that cold January day in 9 degree weather was prevent a train wreck, to stop and listen to each other talk, to hear that when the construction industry and union leaders were talking about providing jobs, and we were talking about cleaning up the Sound, we were talking about the same thing, that we could have economic growth and we could have a cleaner Sound if we worked together.
From that effort was formed the Clean Water Jobs Coalition. As we moved forward, we put together a platform that talked about local government, State government and the Federal Government, all coming through with funds for the Sound, we called it the three legs of a stool, all moving forward for the cleanup of the Long Island Sound. Well, we have gotten two legs of that stool moving forward in the past six years, dollars commitments from the States and local governments.
Now it is time for the Federal Government, who itself proclaimed Long Island Sound a national estuary, a national treasure in 1988, to come forward and help us clean up the Sound for future generations, for those future generations of my children and their children, so they can learn and think about the wonder of Long Island Sound and the wonder of nature and quality of life as we move forward.
The Long Island Sound Restoration Act is based on the Clean Water Jobs platform for Long Island Sound, providing matching Federal grant monies to State and local dollars to remove nitrogen from Long Island Sound. And as Governors Pataki and Rowland clearly articulated, the States are doing their share. And more than their share, in using their SRF money, as well as the direct grants for the Long Island Sound cleanup program.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 So in summary, the Long Island Sound is a national treasure. Its restoration is a story of national significance that warrants Federal support. And again, just look across this panel, how many times do you see the construction industry, union officials, conservation groups, academic leaders, in support of one issue, Long Island Sound. So Mr. Chairman, Long Island Sound's time has come. And with the passage of the Long Island Sound Restoration Act, we can truly have all three legs of the stool and the support of the Federal Government in this effort.
Thank you very much.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Thank you, Mr. Miller.
We have found in Pennsylvania that if you frame the debate properly, it doesn't have to be environment or jobs. If it is done properly, you can do both.
Mr. Pepe, from New York?
Mr. PEPE. Thank you, Congressman, and thank you for giving us the opportunity today to make our comments on this very important piece of legislation.
I would also like to at this moment congratulate Governors Pataki and Governor Rowland for their discussions in this area and also for their efforts, exhaustive efforts, to help improve Long Island Sound with commitments on the part of each of their States to make sure that the Sound quality is improved.
Long Island Sound clearly, from all the discussions today, is a national estuary of recreation and commerce interest. Not improving this important estuary, what could be the experience of that? Well, we know. In Westchester County, back a decade ago, when nearly half of all communities in Westchester County were shut down from any growth opportunity by a moratorium issued because a sewer treatment facility in the county could not handle the overflows of storm water and other problems that were occurring at facilities that were outdated and not modernized with new technology.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Many workers in the building industry were out of work. People had to leave the industry and their life's work. Many moved from the community. There was great distress in the local environment. So we have felt and know the effect of not having good quality environmental infrastructure. That is why this legislation to save Long Island Sound is so important.
With respect to what communities need. Westchester County today, Long Island and New York City are moving forward with programs to improve sewer treatment infrastructures. However, bonds are limited and on their own, they can only do so much. For instance, in Westchester County, just this month is the first phase of combined sewer overflow improvements funded entirely by Westchester County, with little support from New York State Environmental Bond Act funds.
But virtually no support from the Federal Government. It is time in our view that the Federal Government step up and begin taking an active role in the needs of improving local facilities discharging into the Long Island Sound and other waterways in our community.
H.R. 3313 as is not only good environmental legislation but also a jobs bill, one that will create many jobs in our community in economic development, growth and also performing work that needs to be done at these facilities. For every million dollars spent in improving sewer and water treatment facilities nearly 50 jobs are crated in direct and indirect employment.
So those important numbers are necessary for this legislation to gather support.
In closing, I would like to read from the Clean Water Jobs Coalition brochure that David spoke of. Comments by my good friend who is in the audience behind me, Nick Signorelli, Sr., who is business manager of Operating Engineers Local 137. He stated, the old adage jobs versus the environment, is passe. Environmentalists and construction industry officials realize that by working together, jobs, sustainable development, and a clean environment are a reality.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Investment in water pollution control will increase the rate of return on private capital, increase the growth rate of labor productivity, boost private plant and equipment investment, and expand the tax base.
I certainly fully with Nick and his comments. That is why we are here today in support of H.R. 3313. Thank you.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Thank you, Mr. Pepe.
Mr. John Atkin, the Executive Director of Save the Sound, Inc.
Mr. ATKIN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I thank the Committee for giving me the opportunity to testify here this afternoon.
My name is John Atkin. I am President of the Save the Sound. We are based in Stamford, Connecticut and Glen Cove, New York. I also serve as co-chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee, with David Miller, for the Long Island Sound Study.
It also feels like old home week for me, too. I served for 10 years in the Connecticut State House of Representatives and State Senate with not only Governor Rowland, but with Congressman Shays and Congresswoman Johnson as well. I appreciate all of their leadership in providing protection to Long Island Sound. I thank the members of the Connecticut and New York delegations for sponsoring this important piece of legislation.
You have heard from all the previous speakers on the facts, the geology and the geography of the Sound, and the need to protect the Sound and an understanding of what hypoxia, low dissolved oxygen, is. I want to talk very quickly and briefly about a couple of other coalitions that have formed to make sure that the process of cleaning up Long Island Sound really works and is really a priority.
Nitrogen reduction and seeking funding to make it happen has been a priority of many players around the Sound. The CAC, the Citizens Advisory Committee, which I referred to earlier, consists of representatives of 60 citizen and user groups around the sound, and has consistently made the reduction of nitrogen loading a priority.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Save the Sound, additionally, last year coalesced with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the State's second largest business organization, the Southwest Area Commerce and Industry Association, to urge Connecticut's legislature to increase the bonding money available. This successful effort led to the legislature approving $120 million a year for these two years to be used for this clean water fund and reducing nitrogen loading and upgrading sewage treatment plants in the south. That totals the $240 million that the Governor referred to earlier stated.
Additionally, the legislature approved a mechanism that would increase the grant portion of funding to municipalities for the nitrogen reduction phase of upgrades. In other words, right now the State clean water fund provides money to municipalities in a low interest loan but the nitrogen reduction phase of that money that goes from the State to the municipalities is a grant portion. That portion was actually increased in an effort again to reduce nitrogen.
You heard about the trading in Congresswoman Johnson's bill. The Connecticut DEP is also proposing a nitrogen trading plan before the current session of Connecticut's legislature. I did testify in favor of that plan last week in Hartford. I should point out that even with a trading mechanism in place the wastewater plants and municipalities that buy the credits still have to meet their permit limits. So you are not having any backsliding, you are simply speeding up the process as both the Governor and the Congress people who testified earlier.
I also want to point out that the Long Island Sound Restoration Act is a good companion bill to S. 1632, which is sponsored by the four Senators of both Connecticut and New York. The bill passed unanimously by voice vote out of the EPW Committee last fall, and is awaiting action by the full Senate. That particular piece is asking for $10 million. I would hope that when that bill passes and the $80 million passes here, that the Conference Committee would see fit to agree with the House version and approve the $80 million.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 So again I thank you and the co-sponsors for their leadership in sponsoring this important legislation. It is critical to the Sound, our greatest natural resource, that the Federal Government increase its recognition of the need to improve this water body by making an increased financial commitment. It is critical for future generations that this water body be returned to a flourishing ecosystem of flora and fauna.
It is also critical that we see a day where my 6 year old son or yours or your daughter can tell his 6 year old son that he can safely swim and fish in Long Island Sound. I think with the help of this Congress, that day will come. Thank you for your time.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Thank you very much.
We will now go to the panel from Louisiana. But it strikes me that clean water is clean water. The problems are very much the same, whether they're in the industrialized northeast, in Long Island Sound, off the North Atlantic, or in the agriculture, timber, fishing, oil drilling warm water of Louisiana. We have similar problems, and we are all here to talk about them.
Mr. Tim Coulon, the President of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, please.
Mr. COULON. Thank you, Mr. Vice Chairman, and congratulations. You pronounced my name much easier than my own constituents. You must have a little French in you. That was correct, Coulon.
Again, let me thank this body for the honor and the privilege of affording us the opportunity to address you. I want to echo some comments made actually to Congressman Vitter on his initiative and the grass roots support that this bill has, and the fact that he went through such laborious efforts to bring us all together, which is no small task in our region.
Jefferson Parish is located on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain. It is one of the two urban parishes along the south shore, with the other being Orleans parish. Jefferson is roughly the same size as the City of Orleans in terms of population. We share many of the same physical characteristics of the city, as it relates to our environment and the effect of our population on the environment.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 For instance, most of both Jefferson and Orleans are below sea level. This fact means that we are required to invest heavily in flood protection to cope with an average rainfall of 60 inches per year. Unfortunately, on some occasions, and David is quite familiar, we have had as much as 10 to 12 inches in a 6 hour period, which compounds our problem with our sewer system.
Flood protection mostly means that the city in Jefferson must remove stormwater from our streets and neighborhoods by means of pumps, drainage canals and extensive underground stormwater collection system. Both the city and Jefferson have heavily invested in pumps and drainage infrastructure over many years. In fact, the pumps and canals that have been built over the years represent the state of the art in terms of this type of equipment.
This drainage system, most of which is buried underground, co-exists with the sanitation system, which is also composed of underground pipes. The dual system of underground stormwater drainage and sanitation in our two parishes is necessary to protect Lake Pontchartrain into which our stormwater is pumped. The costs associated with the operation and maintenance of this dual system are substantial. In New Orleans, where the water board has responsibility for the operation of its sanitation and drainage systems, the combination of rate charges and ad valorem taxes places the City of New Orleans at a level far above 100 percent of the median average in the Nation.
In addition to the operational costs, significant capital costs must be met by our parishes to maintain the integrity of the two systems, lest unsanitary flows are pumped into Lake Pontchartrain via the stormwater drainage system. Soil subsidence and the high water table have created physical conditions that continually cause small breaches in our sanitary waste system. These breaches cause an inflow and infiltration of stormwater into the sanitary waste. This condition essentially means that when it rains heavily, some sanitary waste could be inadvertently pumped into the lake.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Neither Jefferson nor the City of New Orleans is going to be able to meet these needs without some form of continued Federal assistance. We believe that Congressman Vitter's bill would create a local-Federal partnership that can address these significant funding needs. Both the City and Jefferson have formed a successful partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers to address flood control in southeast Louisiana. This program, which has been met by a 25 percent local match, we believe creates a precedent as it relates to the Lake Pontchartrain problem.
We would like to implement a similar type project utilizing the expertise of the Corps on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain that would provide protection to the Lake Pontchartrain environment by reducing the amount of sanitary waste escaping into the lake. Working with the Army Corps of Engineers in implementing such a project, we have demonstrated that we can meet the local financial and engineering obligations associated with undertaking such a project.
The regional problem of the restoration of Lake Pontchartrain requires a regional solution. That is why prior to the introduction of the Lake Pontchartrain Restoration Act by Congressman Vitter, the Regional Planning Commission representing the parishes of Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Tammany and St. Bernard, entered into a memorandum of understanding with the University of New Orleans and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation to implement a restoration plan.
With regards to the south part of the lake, inflow and infiltration has already been identified by the EPA and others as a significant cause of pollution in our lake. However, the restoration of the lake requires solutions which address the infiltration and inflow problems in Orleans and Jefferson to be successful. That is why the Regional Planning Commission is so supportive of the Pontchartrain partnership in Congressman Vitter's bill.
I would like to thank the Committee again for this opportunity. I think, Vice Chairman, you said it quite well: problems across this country are unique to our terrain, but at the same time very common in the sense that we all are facing difficulties in our sanitation system, pollution in our Great Lakes. Again, we thank you for the opportunity and again, I want to thank Congressman Vitter for inviting me here today to be part of this process.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. SHERWOOD. Thank you, Mr. Coulon.
Mr. Carlton Dufrechou, from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Association?
Mr. DUFRECHOU. Yes, sir, thank you. Mr. Sherwood, Committee members, I am Carlton Dufrechou, the Executive Director of Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. I would like to thank you also for the opportunity to speak to you this afternoon about the restoration of the Pontchartrain Basin. And I would also like to thank Congressman Vitter for his kind words. We do believe that Pontchartrain is one of the most successful grass roots restoration programs underway in the United States today. It means a lot to us down home.
Also on behalf of the citizens of the Basin as well as, currently there are 98 entities, not only local parishes, but the State regulatory agencies as well as Federal agencies and the universities, working on the restoration of Pontchartrain Basin. All of these folks have made a monumental commitment to the restoration of the lake.
As Congressman Vitter indicated, the lake is a 5,000 square mile, actually the Basin is a 5,000 square mile watershed in southeast Louisiana. It is not only one of the largest lakes in the country, it is one of the largest estuarine systems in the American Gulf Coast. The Basin has some of the most diverse topography in Louisiana, ranging from rolling woodlands to coastal wetlands. At the Basin's center is a 630 square mile Lake Pontchartrain. Although we call the lake a lake, technically it is an inland bay. It is a mixing area of fresh waters of the rivers where they mix with the salty waters of the sea.
The lake is surrounded by almost 1.5 million residents of metro New Orleans, making it the most populated area of the State. In the past, Pontchartrain was an economic engine and a recreational haven for southeastern Louisiana. Unfortunately, since the 1940s, increased population, urbanization and land use changes have altered or destroyed much of Pontchartrain's valuable ecological resources. Inadequate wastewater treatment, stormwater discharges, rapid unplanned growth and agricultural activities have degraded our water quality. Natural occurrences such as hurricanes, shoreline erosion and land subsidence have also harmed the Basin's sensitive ecology.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 In 1962, the first ''no swimming'' signs appeared along the lake's south shore due to high levels of pollution. By the mid-1980s, almost every river and tributary in the Pontchartrain was polluted.
Recognizing the mounting environmental problems and declining environmental health of the watershed, the State created the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation in 1989. The Foundation's mission is to restore and preserve the water quality and habitats of the Basin. With the help of citizens, universities, the Environmental Protection Agency, State agencies, local government and the business community, much has been accomplished.
Shell dredging, a 50 year operation in Lake Pontchartrain, was eliminated. Twenty-two abandoned oil and gas structures were removed from the lake. Tons of discarded batteries were located and extracted. Waste retention lagoons have been constructed for 80 percent of the Basin livestock operations. The Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge was created. New Orleans initiated a complete renovation of its sanitary sewer system.
As President Coulon indicated, Jefferson Parish is trying to reduce stormwater discharges into Lake Pontchartrain. Pontchartrain's environmental education and outreach programs have informed thousands of the simple things they can do to reduce pollution entering the lake. The lake's water quality has improved. As Congressman Vitter indicated, we have got pelicans, manatees and even dolphins returning to the Pontchartrain Basin.
Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. Water quality, while improving on the south shore, appears to be getting worse on the north shore of the lake. Poorly exposed urbanization has increased pollution of rivers and bayous on the north shore. The upper basin, the area east toward our State capital in Baton Rouge, is beginning to experience some of these same problems.
The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a deep draft navigation channel, is still a major source of salt water intrusion, land loss, and a storm surge problem.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 The Pontchartrain Restoration Act proposes to strengthen the existing community based watershed restoration effort by partnering with key groups providing additional technical support and augmenting regional community support. The partners include the Environmental Protection Agency, Louisiana Governor's office, the University of New Orleans, the Regional Planning Commission and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. These partners represent Federal agencies, State agencies, area universities, elected officials and the public, respectively. The PRA, or the Pontchartrain Restoration Act, combines management leadership, technical expertise and regional policy and support into a comprehensive framework for the continuation of the consensus driven restoration activities.
We believe the Restoration Act will better facilitate the restoration and preservation of the water quality and habitats throughout the Basin and help achieve clean water goals set by the country. The value of a clean Pontchartrain Basin is estimated to be almost $100 million annually. We hope you will help us achieve those benefits and help us achieve our goals to achieve a health Pontchartrain Basin.
Thank you for the opportunity to address you this afternoon.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Thank you, Mr. Dufrechou.
Dr. William Norton, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, at Southeastern Louisiana University?
Dr. NORTON. Mr. Vice Chairman and honorable members of this very important Subcommittee, I sincerely appreciate the opportunity afforded me today to testify in support of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Act. I am head of the Department of BIOlogical Sciences at Southeastern Louisiana University, a school of approximately 15,000 students that is located in Hammond near the northwest shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
The university community, as well as the leaders in both the private and public sectors of the regions surrounding Southeastern, are enthusiastic and very grateful that Representative Vitter has recognized how critical the restoration of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin is to the economic stability, quality of life and natural resources for the citizens of southern Louisiana and in fact, the Nation as a whole.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 In essence, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Act is designed to ensure coordinated restoration efforts among the participants, to establish Lake Pontchartrain Restoration Program within the Environmental Protection Agency, and to authorize and provide adequate resources for restoration projects within the Basin.
As Representative Vitter indicated earlier, substantial progress in the restoration of Lake Pontchartrain has occurred over the past decade as a consequence of the fruitful efforts of many dedicated individuals in the public and private sectors. However, increased human activities in the Basin have maintained the aquatic ecosystem in a perpetual state of jeopardy. Consequently, there is a definitive need to establish an entity, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Program, that provides a mechanism through which continual coordinated efforts can be maintained with the primary objective of restoring the ecological health of the Pontchartrain Basin.
The program is structured in such a manner as to address a number of significant environmental issues, including those that link the environment to human health problems through water that has been tainted with pesticides, herbicides, raw or partially treated human waste and animal waste from farms. The program is also designed to ensure that threats to the Basin are recognized and ultimately minimized through organized efforts of all the participating parties.
I firmly believe that in order for a complex, multi-faceted project such as Lake Pontchartrain Basin Program to succeed, it must have a strong and viable education component. Public education is frequently recognized as the key to success for large, comprehensive environmental programs that require a change in attitude and behavior of citizens. The public must develop an acute awareness of the causes of wetland degradation and a true appreciation of the necessity to restore wetland and estuarine ecosystems to their original pristine state. The Lake Pontchartrain Restoration Act and its proposed amendments focus on the critical nature of communication and enhanced working relationships among citizens, communities and agencies.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Southeastern Louisiana University has a strong and recognized legacy in the generation of valuable links between restoration projects and outreach programs. For the past decade we have received funds from the National Science Foundation that have been directed to the education of elementary and secondary teachers in the area of wetland restoration and monitoring projects, especially those that have focused on the restoration of cypress swamps and the monitoring of watersheds.
The importance of the Pontchartrain Basin to the economic stability of southern Louisiana and the northern region of the Gulf of Mexico cannot be overemphasized. The influence of the Basin extends far beyond the physical boundaries of this estuarine ecosystem. The Basin functions as an important nursery for a multitude of freshwater and marine organisms that are critical to the economy of both Louisiana and the Nation.
Migratory waterfowl and other wildlife are dependent upon the stability and productivity of estuarine ecosystems such as the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, which is one of several ecosystems in Louisiana. Collectively, Louisiana's wetlands provide over 30 percent of the Nation's total commercial fisheries harvest and serve as the over-wintering habitat for 70 percent of the migratory waterfowl for the central and Mississippi flyway.
These wetlands also contain rich resources of gas and oil. We have a moral responsibility and economic incentive to restore and maintain wetlands and estuarine ecosystems, which represent the most productive type of ecosystem in the world. In Louisiana the Ponchartrain basin is unique, because of its location in a part of the State that is subjected to the greatest population growth and development. The future health, integrity and sustainability of the Pontchartrain Basin ecosystem are largely dependent upon how we act in the near future. This estuarine ecosystem is experiencing extensive ecological stresses as a consequence of the pronounced growth and development that is occurring within the boundaries of the Pontchartrain Basin.
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 New Orleans is situated on the south shore of the lake. Future expansion of the city will likely be limited to wetland areas. During the past decade, the entire north shore area has accommodated rapid development and a dramatic increase in population. The region has transformed into a bedroom community for New Orleans.
In addition, the growth and development has included the expansion of numerous towns and cities that are scattered along a corridor that parallels the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Several sizeable rivers, such as the Amite, Tickfaw, Tangipahoa and Tchefuncte flow into the Lake Maurepaus/Pontchartrain Basin. These river systems directly influence the ecological state of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, and they all collectively are susceptible to the potential adverse effects of continued population growth and development unless we respond accordingly and design a comprehensive management and restoration plan.
The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Act provides the foundation, mechanism and financial support for such a plan. Many of the known causes of pollution and ecosystem disruption in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin are comparable to those that are adversely affecting other wetland ecosystems, especially those scattered throughout the south. Consequently, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Act may conceivably function as a model for the restoration of other threatened wetland ecosystems throughout the country.
In closing, I would like to express my appreciation to the members of this important Committee for allowing me to testify today. Thank you.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Gentlemen, thank you very much. If we can slip back up to the Long Island Sound.
Mr. Atkin, what is your opinion of the proposed general watershed permit and nitrogen credit trading program in Connecticut? Do you believe it will be both cost effective and sufficiently protective of the environment? And have you had a chance to determine how EPA's proposed TMDL regulation may impact the general watershed permit and nitrogen trading program proposed in Connecticut?
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. ATKIN. Yes, Save the Sound is supportive of the trading premise. I believe that it will speed up the process. As the Governor testified, it is estimated that it will save about $200 million in Connecticut alone over the next decade in terms of upgrading the sewage treatment plants to the nitrogen reduction, or the tertiary stage of reduction.
I think that there will have to be safeguards built into the legislation to make sure that the local water quality is not impacted. The general permit of the State is to reduce and if we see reduction of nitrogen in the ambient water of 58 1/2 percent or an appropriate percentage over the years, that is clearly the goal. But if it starts to show some backsliding in local water areas, local harbors or bays or smaller estuaries, I think that perhaps those particular municipalities should not be allowed to participate in the trading any more, and that they should have to upgrade their plants, so the local water quality improvements are made.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Give us an example of nitrogen trading.
Mr. ATKIN. A municipality, Norwalk, Connecticut, right now is undergoing a $60 million upgrade in their plant. It will be a complete denitrification process. A neighboring community, I don't know if this is going to be an actual trade or not, but I will give a potential example, a neighboring community of Westport also is in need over the next decade of upgrading, or in 15 years, upgrading their sewage treatment plant.
They could go to the City of Norwalk, and I don't believe the mechanism of the bank itself has been worked out yet, there are still discussions within DEP and the municipalities how this bank would work, and what a pound of nitrogen would be valued at. But the Town of Westport could go to the City of Norwalk that has improved their sewage treatment plant, and is removing more nitrogen than the 58 1/2 percent specified in the law, and they would actually be able to buy credits from the City of Norwalk so they would not have to do the immediate upgrades in their community. It would help subsidize the cost of the upgrade for the City of Norwalk.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. SHERWOOD. Will that process help facilitate the discussion that we had earlier about jobs and the environment, that they don't have to be mutually exclusive?
Mr. ATKIN. I believe so. Maybe Mr. Pepe can answer. But I believe it still shows the need of, one, the improvement of these water treatment facilities, and it additionally helps the construction industry in building these plants.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Mr. Pepe?
Mr. PEPE. Clearly it would work to the advantage of the environment and the jobs community. These improvements are vital and necessary, not only for the immediate need that they serve, but also for the long-term stable economic development of an area or a region. We all support intelligent growth. This is the manner in which it will go forward in future years.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Thank you.
Mr. VITTER. Yes, a few questions for the Louisiana folks. In both of these bills, including our Louisiana based bill, we are essentially asking for a Federal partner. So I wonder if any of the Louisiana witnesses can focus just for a minute or two on the Federal or national significance of the Lake Pontchartrain ecosystem, number one, and some of the causes of our current problems, which have national roots. I am particularly thinking of oil and gas exploration and Mississippi River flood protection that we have touched upon.
Mr. DUFRECHOU. Mr. Vitter, I would like to take the first one. As far as oil and gas, not only oil and gas operations, but navigation operations, as you well know and members of the Subcommittee might know, Louisiana as a coastal zone is very, very shallow as far as relief. If we have a one foot elevation, we are in high ground. New Orleans and Jefferson Parish are actually below sea level, in some areas down to about 10 feet or more below sea level.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Because of the dredging that has taken place, because of the oil and gas operations, and through some of the navigation canals, we have increased the amount of salt water entering the area from the Gulf of Mexico. This has changed vegetation, it is made the wetlands more vulnerable to storm surges. Because of that, we experience some of the greatest, actually the greatest land loss of the Continental United States. It was up to 25 square miles per year, up until a decade ago actually in the southeastern portions of the Pontchartrain Basin.
As far as the national significance of that, the national significance is, I think, Dr. Norton mentioned earlier, wetlands are the principal nursery ground for our fisheries. Pontchartrain contributes more than 30 percent, according to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, of the fisheries in the Gulf Coast for the entire country. Those fisheries are estimated to be about $35 million annually to the entire country.
Mr. VITTER. It is also related in terms of national significance to navigation for the entire river, to oil and gas production for the entire country.
Mr. DUFRECHOU. Yes, sir, you are exactly right.
Mr. VITTER. Let me also invite you or any of the other Louisiana witnesses to touch on the regional aspect of our approach, number one, and number two, the sort of voluntary grass roots nature of the regional effort that has already been made primarily through your organization.
Mr. DUFRECHOU. As a personal aside, gentlemen, I am one of the last, I am a bit older than Congressman Vitter, I am 44. My dad taught me to swim in Lake Pontchartrain. I was 6 years old when the first ''no swimming'' signs came up. At first, they were up and down on a weekly basis, and then unfortunately by the end of the 1960s, they came up and stayed up.
In fact, this is not something that we are proud of in Louisiana, but in 1980, the lake was in such a bad condition that the State Department of Health and Hospitals, our State agency that grades water quality, discontinued sampling of the lake. At that point, the lake was actually written off.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 However, in the late 1980s, a grass roots effort started. It was started by actually some simple people, watermen, the fishermen, the commercial fishermen, the recreational fishermen were a big part of it. And a bunch of conservationists got together. They recognized that we have a tremendous resource in the southeast portion of the State, and it is Pontchartrain. They recognized that this lake that for years had had browncaps could be blue-green again.
In reality, that is happening. We have seen a monumental comeback in the lake in near-term. However, we have got a long way to go. That is why we need this Pontchartrain Restoration Act.
The community support is there. Certainly we have got the support of the local parishes, as represented today by President Coulon. We also have President Burgess from Tangipahoa Parish in the audience. And the biggest thing I would think is just the interest of the public in the restoration of the lake. The lake is actually at the center of the entire basin. If you go to New Orleans, you can't miss it. It is there. It unifies the entire area.
And we sure hope you will give us some help.
Mr. VITTER. That is all I have.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Gentlemen, we have been joined by the distinguished ranking member of the full Committee, Mr. Oberstar. Mr. Oberstar, do you have anything?
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I am sorry to come in at the tail end of the presentations, though I have followed these issues very closely for the 35 years I have served on this Committee in one capacity or another. I am greatly concerned about the Long Island Sound problem and the discharge of nitrogen. This is an issue identified very early on by the gentleman in the middle of those portraits back there, John Blatnik, who was my predecessor, for whom I was administrative assistant, and the author, in 1956, of the first Federal water pollution control act, started the cleanup of the Nation's rivers, estuaries and lakes.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 And removing nitrogen and phosphorus as the limiting elements in eutrophication of the Nation's waterways was a goal he as a biochemist understood and wanted to pursue and we now have in place in the massive structure of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. But I will always recall John Blatnik's comment as he assumed the chairmanship of the Rivers and Harbors Subcommittee, he toured the great river systems of the United States. When they got down to New Orleans, and there were raw phenols just bubbling all the way down, 1,100 miles down the Mississippi River, 2,000 miles actually from Lake Itasca in my district where it rises.
This is one of the great resources of the world. The estuary formed by the Mississippi River as it flows past New Orleans is one of the great creation places, the meeting of the fresh and the salt water of the world, where new forms of life are created. But they're being destroyed, not because of New Orleans or other communities in Louisiana, but the 10 States along the Mississippi River and all the watersheds that contribute to it.
So it is not just up to the people of Louisiana, it is up to the people of the United States. This is a great resource for all America.
The central flyway, which once at the turn of the century had a mass migration of over 250 million birds a year, waterfowl, nesting all along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, now is reduced to half that number, because we have destroyed or polluted the nesting and breeding grounds and resting places for the waterfowl migration.
Lake Pontchartrainforgive me for giving it the French pronunciation, but as a French major I enjoy your great heritageis also one of our great freshwater resources of the United States. And we need to work with you to preserve this as a national treasure, not just as a local treasure. So don't think of yourselves as purely parochial, although that has a very unique governmental application in Louisiana.
But it is not a parochial interest, it is a national interest. All of us benefit by improving the water resources of Louisiana, one of the great water resource States of this country.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 Mr. SHERWOOD. Mr. Coulon, would you describe the current partnership among the City of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish and the Army Corps with regard to flood control? Should this be a model for the program in the amount of sanitary waste escaping into the lake? Talk to me about that a little bit, please.
Mr. COULON. The partnership that I make reference to is called Southeast Louisiana Flood. Unfortunately, my community, as has been focused here, is below sea level. We are surrounded by levies to protect from hurricanes and of course, the Mississippi River. We also drain from the river to the lake, some of those parallel lines we talked about, with internal drainage system and the sewer system.
In May of 1995, this whole region, my community, Jefferson, had $500 million worth of flood damage, 16 inch rainfall in some areas in a 6 hour period, of which this sophisticated pump system is just not able to deal with.
At that time, there was quite a few studies taking place to help us solve our problem. One of the unfortunate rankings we have in this country is Jefferson Parish, Louisiana is the number one FEMA flood claim participant in the United States, which is not something we are proud of. But we actually formed a coalition with the Corps, St. Tammany Parish and Orleans. In 1995, as a result of that flood event, we actually quit studying the problem and actually got into action.
We are participants, as I said, in Southeast Louisiana Flood, Jefferson and Orleans and St. Tammany. It is a 25 percent-75 percent Federal share. The Corps is, you might call the managing partners, and Jefferson and Orleans are part of the partnership. We are now in our fourth year of the program, of which is funded, this year we are funded out of the President's budget, and it comes out of the water bill. Hopefully we will get an additional add-on. It is a very ambitious expensive program, estimated to cost us about $500 million maximum, $500 million or so on the Federal level, with at 25 percent match, which is a fairly decent amount of local match when you are talking about local dollars.
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Segment 2 Of 2 So again, we have had excellent cooperation with the Corps at a district level. I realize the Corps is under a great deal of scrutiny on a national level. But I could not tell you of a better partnership that we have locally within the Corps of Engineers.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Thank you.
I thank the panel members for their testimony and their patience on this discussion this afternoon of the Long Island Sound Restoration Act and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Act. The Subcommittee will follow up with additional questions in writing.
The Subcommittee stands adjourned.
Thank you very much.
[Whereupon, at 4:05 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, to reconvene at the call of the Chair.]