SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOC56673 CC
BEXAR-MEDINA-ATASCOSA COUNTIES SMALL WATERSHED PROJECT & SMALL WATERSHED REHABILITATION AMENDMENTS OF 1999
GENERAL FARM COMMODITIES, RESOURCE
CONSERVATION, AND CREDIT
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SIXTH CONGRESS
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCAPRIL 15, 1999
Serial No. 10614
Printed for the use of the Committee on Agriculture
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
LARRY COMBEST, Texas, Chairman
BILL BARRETT, Nebraska,
JOHN A. BOEHNER, Ohio
THOMAS W. EWING, Illinois
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
CHARLES T. CANADY, Florida
NICK SMITH, Michigan
TERRY EVERETT, Alabama
FRANK D. LUCAS, Oklahoma
HELEN CHENOWETH, Idaho
JOHN N. HOSTETTLER, Indiana
SAXBY CHAMBLISS, Georgia
RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCBOB SCHAFFER, Colorado
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
KEN CALVERT, California
GIL GUTKNECHT, Minnesota
BOB RILEY, Alabama
GREG WALDEN, Oregon
MICHAEL K. SIMPSON, Idaho
DOUG OSE, California
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
ERNIE FLETCHER, Kentucky
CHARLES W. STENHOLM, Texas,
Ranking Minority Member
GEORGE E. BROWN, Jr., California
GARY A. CONDIT, California
COLLIN C. PETERSON, Minnesota
CALVIN M. DOOLEY, California
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina
DAVID MINGE, Minnesota
EARL F. HILLIARD, Alabama
EARL POMEROY, North Dakota
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
SANFORD D. BISHOP, Jr., Georgia
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCBENNIE G. THOMPSON, Mississippi
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
VIRGIL H. GOODE, Jr., Virginia
MIKE McINTYRE, North Carolina
DEBBIE STABENOW, Michigan
BOB ETHERIDGE, North Carolina
CHRISTOPHER JOHN, Louisiana
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
DAVID D. PHELPS, Illinois
KEN LUCAS, Kentucky
MIKE THOMPSON, California
BARON P. HILL, Indiana
WILLIAM E. O'CONNER, JR., Staff Director
LANCE KOTSCHWAR, Chief Counsel
STEPHEN HATERIUS, Minority Staff Director
KEITH WILLIAMS, Communications Director
Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities, Resource Conservation, and Credit
BILL BARRETT, Nebraska, Chairman
JOHN A. BOEHNER, Ohio,
NICK SMITH, Michigan
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCFRANK D. LUCAS, Oklahoma
SAXBY CHAMBLISS, Georgia
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
DOUG OSE, California
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
DAVID MINGE, MN,
Ranking Minority Member
BENNIE G. THOMPSON, Mississippi
DAVID D. PHELPS, Illinois
BARON P. HILL, Indiana
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina
EARL POMEROY, North Dakota
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
SANFORD D. BISHOP, Jr. Georgia
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
C O N T E N T S
H.R. 728, To amend the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act to authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to provide cost share assistance for the rehabilitation of structural measures constructed as part of water resource projects previously funded by the Secretary under such Act or related laws.
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Barrett, Hon. Bill, a Representative in Congress from the State of Nebraska, opening statement
Lucas, Hon. Frank D., a Representative in Congress from the State of Oklahoma, opening statement
Bonilla, Hon. Henry, a Representative in Congress from the State of Texas
Sells, Danny, Associate Chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Ward, Johnny W., III, vice-president of the board, Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Control & Improvement District, Natalia, TX
Wilson, Bill R., president, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, Kinta, OK
Association of State Dam Safety Officials
BEXAR-MEDINA-ATASCOSA COUNTIES SMALL WATERSHED PROJECT & H.R. 728, SMALL WATERSHED REHABILITATION AMENDMENTS OF 1999
THURSDAY, APRIL 15, 1999
House of Representatives,
Subcommitte on General Farm Commodities,
Resource Conservation, and Credit,
Committee on Agriculture,
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCWashington, DC,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:30 a.m., in room 1300, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Bill Barrett (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Smith, Lucas of Oklahoma, Moran, Jenkins, Ose, Hayes, Minge, Phelps, Hill, Pomeroy, Holden and Stenholm [ex officio].
Staff present: Dave Ebersole, Russell Laird, Hunter Moorhead, Callista Bisek, Wanda Worsham, clerk; Anne Simmons, and Carole Jett, science fellow.
Mr. BARRETT. Good morning. The hearing of the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities, Resource Conservation, and Credit to review the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties Small Watershed Project under P.L. 566 and to review the status of aging small watershed projects as well as H.R. 728, the Small Watershed Rehabilitation Amendments of 1999 shall now come to order.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BILL BARRETT, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEBRASKA
Mr. BARRETT. The subcommittee meets today for two important purposes under its soil and conservation oversight responsibilities and its legislative jurisdiction.
First this morning we will examine and then consider a small watershed project under Public Law 83566 that was submitted last year by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Second, we will review the physical status of these small watershed projects, hundreds of which are approaching the end of their engineered lifespans.
Last November 12 the NRCS, in concurrence with the Office of Management and Budget, submitted to the committee the Watershed Plan Environmental Impact Statement for the works of improvement in the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties' water conservation area in Texas.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The local sponsors of the project are the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Control and Improvement District No. 1, the Medina Valley Soil and Water Conservation District; and the Alamo Soil and Water Conservation District. I would add that this project is in the Congressional district of our friend, the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Bonilla, who fully supports the approval of this proposal.
The full committee will take up the consideration of this plan at the next available opportunity and if approved the project would improve over a number of years the system of dams and canals that originally were constructed in the early 1900's by a private company to provide irrigation to the area's growers and ranchers. Over the years this system has deteriorated to an extent that water losses through the seepage and evaporation amounts to as much as 35 percent of the water delivered for irrigation purposes.
This project would provide needed conservation of water resources to an area of south central Texas that is dependent on the Edwards Aquifer for its drinking water and other water needs.
As I mentioned a moment ago, the infrastructure of many of these projects are at or near their designated lifespan and it is important for members of the subcommittee to understand what needs to be done and what can be done to rehabilitate these aging structures.
Our colleague, Mr. Lucas, has introduced legislation, H.R. 728, The Small Watershed Rehabilitation Amendments of 1999 as a Federal response to this situation, and we will learn more about that bill a little later this morning, I am sure.
These small flood prevention dams and their water impoundments generally are located in the center of the continental United States. The greatest number of the more than 10,000 of them are actually in three States, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Texas. These programs have provided conservation and other economic benefits of much of rural America since 1948.
I look forward to the testimony this morning from the NRCS and other witnesses who have been willing to appear before our panel today and I now call on the ranking member, Mr. Minge, for any comments that he might wish to make. Mr. Minge.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MINGE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I join in your opening statement and I look forward to the testimony of our colleagues and the witnesses from the NRCS. Thank you.
Mr. BARRETT.At this time, I would ask that a copy of H.R. 728 be placed in the record along with any statements that Member's may have.
[H.R. 728 follows:]
"The Official Committee record contains additional material here."
Mr. BARRETT. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Bonilla, for an opening statement.
STATEMENT OF HON. HENRY BONILLA, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF TEXAS
Mr. BONILLA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the subcommittee. I certainly appreciate how quickly the subcommittee is acting on this much-needed legislation back home for many of my farmers in areas west and south of San Antonio, for those of you who are not familiar geographically with the area we are talking about. Oftentimes in Washington, people come up with a good idea where there is unity back home on what needs to be done and still the wheels of action here in Washington move very slowly, but it is really a tribute to you, Mr. Chairman, and also the Chairman Combest for allowing this to move quickly.
I thank you for holding this hearing today on the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa County Water Conservation Plan. This project is so important to so many producers in my Congressional district back home because it is going to directly impact their ability to continue farming, which is the lifeblood of this area. As you may know, this area of my district has faced some very tough battles between the cities and agriculture producers over water usage. As a result pumping limits have been placed on many producers dependent on the Edwards aquifer, and this has been a very contentious issue over the last few years.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I represent some of the most conservation-minded producers in this country. Water conservation has become an even greater focus with the current water situation, and while this project is for surface water irrigation improvements, any irrigation improvements in the region will relieve the stress on the Edwards aquifer.
This project proposes two plans of action. The first would renovate the irrigation delivery system of surface water stored in Medina Lake. The second would include the installation of improved irrigation technology on privately-owned farms. Water savings as a result of this project can be utilized for other beneficial purposes and thus will reduce pumping from the Edwards aquifer.
The discussion of water and assuring the availability of irrigation water comes at a very critical time for these producers. As you know, just like in many other parts of the country, Texas suffered a devastating drought last year. At this time we are facing below average rainfall again this year. The outlook is certainly bleak in commodity prices as well are hitting rock bottom. Producers need our support and this would be a big help, but we must remember that support comes in many forms.
These producers need a reliable water source at a reasonable price. Approval of this project would go a long way in meeting that need.
I would also like to thank you for taking the time today to hear testimony from a great American back home, a great constituent, Johnny Ward. He is the general manager of the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Water Control and Improvement District. This is the water district that will be the local organization that will work with USDA, NRCS for the implementation of this project. Mr. Ward will be able to provide you with greater details on this project and answer any questions. He has been working on this project for several years. Again Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee I appreciate the time you are devoting to this issue. Thank you for your consideration and really again I am glad that you are moving this bill expeditiously.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRETT. I thank the gentleman for those remarks. Are there any questions from members of the subcommittee?
Seeing none, thank you again, Henry.
Mr. BONILLA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members.
Mr. BARRETT. I would like to invite the first panel up to share with the subcommittee, Mr. Danny Sells, Associate Chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service of the USDA; and Mr. Johnny Ward, III, vice-president of the board, Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Control and Improvement District, obviously from Texas.
Mr. WARD. Yes, sir.
Mr. BARRETT. Nice to have you gentlemen with us.
Mr. WARD. Thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. Mr. Sells, you may proceed.
STATEMENT OF DANNY D. SELLS, ASSOCIATE CHIEF, NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Mr. SELLS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear today to discuss the Watershed Program of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. I am Danny Sells, Associate Chief of the NRCS.
I would like to introduce one individual that is here with me today, Larry Caldwell. Larry is our State Engineer from Oklahoma and works with us each and every day out in the real world where the real work is happening in Oklahoma and other parts of the country as well with our other staff on our Small Watershed Program.
I also would like to say this is the first opportunity I have had since becoming Associate Chief to appear before this subcommittee and I certainly find it an honor to be here. I would also like to mention that I find it also a very pleasing honor to have the opportunity to appear before a subcommittee on which my Congressman, Mr. Jenkins of the First Congressional District of Tennessee, sits, and I hope that Mr. Jenkins is able to visit with us some during the morning.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Through my years of farming in east Tennessee and in my time in Government service, I have seen what our watershed projects mean to our communities. The Small Watershed Program has served thousands of communities across the country by preventing floods, improving natural resources, and increasing economic development. Quite literally the Small Watershed Program of NRCS has changed the landscape of this Nation and many parts of our country what they are today.
The Watershed Plan encompassed by Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties in Texas is a prime example of the type of work that NRCS and local sponsors seek to achieve. The main purpose of this watershed project is to eliminate irrigation water losses, reduce damages from canal breaches, and provide a dependable supply of irrigation water. The conservation measures planned in this project will save over 33,000 acre feet of service water each year, which will help project the Edwards Aquifer, the sole source of water for more than 1.3 million people.
The total cost of this project is $48 million, of which the Federal share is $26 million. Upon completion of the project, however, we estimate that the average benefits will exceed $4.2 million annually. This yield in benefits is quite typical of the NRCS Small Watershed Program and we estimate that the program provides annual benefits of $800 million.
We at NRCS are proud of the result of work that we have achieved in this area.
I want to close by offering the endorsement of NRCS for the Bexar-Medina-Antascoga Watershed Plan and our desire to seek the approval of the committee for this project. I thank the chairman and would be happy to take any questions that the subcommittee might have.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Sells appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, sir. Mr. Ward, please.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF JOHNNY WARD, III, VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD, BEXAR-MEDINA-ATASCOSA COUNTIES WATER CONTROL & IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT, NATALIA, TX
Mr. WARD. First off, to begin with, Mr. Chairman, I would like to say that I am Johnny Ward. I am the vice-president of our Board of Directors of the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Countries Water District, also the general manager and have been for the past 7 years.
I would like to echo what our Congressman Bonilla said about the project and what Mr. Sells has said. We feel like this is a wonderful project and it will help a lot of people in Texas.
A little personal history of myself and the reason I think this project is great. I was born, raised anad grew up in this district, and I am a third generation land owner and farmer in that district. Both of my grandparents were farmers in the district and were instrumental in beginning the district back in the twenties when the BMA Water District was formed.
I am the third generation who has sat on the board of directors of that district. This has been a livelihood not only for myself but for many people in that district. Like you have already heard, the district is about to its lifespan as far as the canal structure is concerned and this would help tremendously to improve it and to make its lifespan even greater.
We started this project about 6 years ago in 1993 and it has moved along relatively fast and I want to say again I thank the committee for getting into it as quickly as they have. The system, like you said, was built back in the early 1900's and it does need some repair. We are losing lots of water and by the testimony you can see there is great benefit to it. It not only benefits our district but, as Mr. Sells said, it helps over 103 million people in the San Antonio region.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It does the things that the last two witnesses have saidkeep us farmers down there with cheap or less expensive irrigation water, and it will also take some tremendous stress off the Edwards Aquifer by using some of this water that we capture and recover from the losses today can also be used for municipal water, which adds a great relief to the people who use the Edwards Aquifer, which as you all are aware or should be award is alsothe aquifer has two springs on the south end of it where live some endangered species, and the recharge from our structure helps provide water for those endangered species and by improving our system would allow us to keep more water in our reservoirs, which would enhance recharge to the Edwards Aquifer.
We feel that this project is a win-win situation, not only for us but everybody in that region. Also, there are five military bases in the city of San Antonio that draw off of the Edwards Aquifer and by that Federal use of the waters from the aquifer and the endangered species, we feel like that this has a national benefit as well as local benefit and we certainly appreciate the committee acting as quickly as they have and would hopefully pass it on and approve of our project as a Federal NRCS project.
NRCS people have been very good. We have been working with them for 6 years on this particular project and they have been a hard-working bunch of people, and they, too, need some help. Thank you very much again for our time and carrying this project forward for us, and I will answer any questions you may have at this time.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Ward appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you very much, Mr. Ward.
Mr. Sells, is it OK if we go to BMA instead of Bexar-Medina-Atascosa? [Laughter.]
Mr. SELLS. Yes, sir.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRETT. Thank you.
Mr. WARD. We all do, Chairman.
Mr. BARRETT. Mr. Sells, when can we expect that the project get underway?
Mr. SELLS. Well, upon the final action of the committee to approve the project then of course, Mr. Chairman, it depends on the funding available. There is a significant backlog, as you are well aware, of projects that need funding, and as soon as we are able to cycle it into the projectthis is a very worthwhile project and worthy projectand we hope to be able to get to it quickly as possible, but naturally, as many things today, it depends on the appropriations that we get to the Small Watersheds account.
Mr. BARRETT. Well, assuming that the money is availablelet me rephrase itwhen would you expect the project to be completed then?
Mr. SELLS. The implementation period is about 10 years for the total completion of the project and I think Mr. Ward can probably speak to some of the other elements of it as well.
Mr. WARD. If you will, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BARRETT. Certainly.
Mr. WARD. As this projectif it gets approved, gets Congressional approval and becomes a project then us as sponsors of the project will go forward with implementing some of the parts of the project to begin to gain our credit for our contribution to the funding. We have already put about a half a million dollars of district money into this project to this point.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you. Mr. Sells, the environmental impact statement that was prepared I think by NRCS on the project States, and here I am quoting, ''No wetlands occur within the area of interest and on-site evaluation revealed that no habitat for endangered species occurs in the area of interest.''
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now I have noticed that EPA has signed off on this project, right?
Mr. SELLS. Yes, sir.
Mr. BARRETT. And also Wildlife Habitat, Endangered Species? They have all signed off?
Mr. SELLS. The appropriate individuals to have signed off on those various aspects to ensure that we are not encroaching on endangered or threatened species, yes, sir.
Mr. BARRETT. So there is no one left hanging out here that you need to sign off yet?
Mr. SELLS. No, sir, not for this project.
Mr. BARRETT. Are there any outstanding issues that this subcommittee should be aware of?
Mr. SELLS. None, sir, that I am aware of.
Mr. BARRETT. OK, fine. Mr. Ward, in light of your drought down there last year, about 1.3 million people around San Antonio, right?
Mr. WARD. Yes, sir, that is right.
Mr. BARRETT.You are all depending on the Edwards Aquifer
Mr. WARD. For their drinking water, yes, sir.
Mr. BARRETT. Is it fair to say that producers have to compete then for a very limited supply of water?
Mr. WARD. Producers do compete for that limited supply of water. Our district covers approximately 33,000 acres in those three counties down there and some of our own producers also have Edwards water wells and they have been subsidizing their Edwards water well water with our BMA surface water.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRETT. Has this then affected the relationship between your urban neighbors and your suburban neighbors? If so, how?
Mr. WARD. Mr. Chairman, one of the beauty parts about our system, we are surface and we positively affect those municipal users as well as the agriculture users and we have had good support from all of the cities and communities and rural water purveyorsand the city water purveyors in that region down there.
Mr. BARRETT. And how much water would you expect to save?
Mr. WARD. This project calls for saving approximately 33,000 acre feet per year.
Mr. BARRETT. Do you think then this is going to alleviate the pressure on that aquifer?
Mr. WARD. It is not a sole solution but it is a part of a bigger solution.
Mr. BARRETT. Are there other benefits from the project that we are not thinking about or touching on that you can think of?
Mr. WARD. Not at this time, Mr. Chairman. I think we have touched on the human benefit, agricultural and endangered species, and that is pretty much the meat of it.
Mr. BARRETT. In light of the fact that our Federal dollars are somewhat limited, in spite of those who think we have tremendous surpluses, how much help would you expect to get from State and local interests on this project?
Mr. WARD. We have talked to our Statethe Texas Water Development Board, which that is the agency in Texas that provides grant money and low interest rate loan money on this project, and we have not really gotten serious with them on any grant money for this project, but we intend on asking. We plan on contributing a great deal of our own revenue to it, for our part.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRETT. Any dollar amounts or percentages at this point in time?
Mr. WARD. I believe we are dueour part shows about $22 million. About $6 million of that would be in-kind services, leaving us around $16 million to come up with, actual cash.
We are entering into a contract with the second largest municipal water purveyor in Bexar County at this time for contracts for them to use some of the water from our district, which would give us the ability to fund our portion of it in the hope that we can fund our portion of it without a whole lot of problems.
Mr. BARRETT. Now when you talk about ''our'' portion you are talking about the district?
Mr. WARD. Yes, sir. We are talking about the BMA District.
Mr. BARRETT. Will there be additional funding available from the State, or do you know?
Mr. WARD. At this time I do not know.
Mr. BARRETT. So the balance at this time would be Federal dollars?
Mr. WARD. Yes, sir, that is correct.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you very much.
Mr. SMITH. Would the Chairman yield?
Mr. BARRETT. Yes.
Mr. SMITH. What is the cost share of 6535? How does that work?
Mr. SELLS. The cost share on most of our watershed projects tend to be a little closer to 5050.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRETT. 5050?
Mr. SELLS. When you consider the in-kind contribution from the local sponsors to the district or other entity, and in this case, as I indicated before, out of the $48 million, the Federal share is $26 million, so this project is fairly close to a 5050 split as well.
I would just add, Mr. Chairman, that these are the kind of projects that we work on with a lot of sponsors around the country in this program, to work on how we do best utilize our resources and especially the water resources that are so important in this part of the country.
The opportunity to conserve water through better irrigation management practices and practices that do help with water storage for irrigation helps economically in the area as Mr. Ward indicated, impact positively the local community because it is through the savings of water that you wind up achieving efficiencies, and you are not really encroaching on the urban uses or those waters of the 1.3 million people who are depending on it for their water supply.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you very much.
I would like to recognize my ranking member, Mr. Minge.
Mr. MINGE. First, Mr. Sells, could you tell us whether the Federal share would be a loan or a grant?
Mr. SELLS. The Small Watershed Program through the P.L. 566 appropriation each year would be a direct funneling of money into the total project, of which it is sort of a cost share, I guess you would say.
Mr. MINGE. But it would all be grant?
Mr. SELLS. It would be grant, yes.
Mr. MINGE. There is no loan component.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SELLS. There is not a loan component, yes.
Mr. MINGE. In your testimony I read that you have a fairly substantial backlog of requests. Could you tell me again how much money or how many requests you have outstanding for these types of projects?
Mr. SELLS. The 566 program has been very popular across the country and we have had a lot of folks that have sought a partnership with us to do these good projects, so they do come to us each and every day in all reality, just as we have worked with this district on this project.
The total backlog is about $1.5 billion.
Mr. MINGE. About $1 1/2 billion?
Mr. SELLS. Yes.
Mr. MINGE. And those would all be grant programs, or are some of them loan programs?
Mr. SELLS. Yes. Yes, sir, of which again the average local contribution is going to approach about 50 percent, fairly close.
Mr. MINGE. And the amount of money that you have appropriated for this program in fiscal year 1999 is about $100 million, is that correct?
Mr. SELLS. Yes, sir.
Mr. MINGE. So it would be about one-seventh of the demands that are outstanding and the administration request for fiscal year 2000 is about $483 million, as I understand it.
Mr. SELLS. Yes, sir.
Mr. MINGE. Do you have some sort of a index that you have constructed, taking into account economic benefits and other considerations that you use to rank or prioritize the requests?
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SELLS. Well, of course those projectsand I might ask Larry to offer some comments as well with his field experience, but the projects that are ongoing are going to have a high priority for dollars appropriated each and every year as we try to schedule and go through the implementation phases of the projects that are already currently under construction.
Yes, the various benefitsthe local contributions, the whole ramification of things to consider what the priorities are
Mr. MINGE. But my question is do you have an index or anything that you prepare so that you can prioritize the requests?
Mr. SELLS. Yes, sir. There would be, and again it is going to change a bit year by year because we have new projects entering, such as this one, each year, but we do have a priority listing of how we would like to go, and with the kind of backlog it is understood it is going to be a long time before we are able at current funding levels to get to some of those projects and get them started.
Mr. MINGE. Do we have a copy of that priority standard or index or however it is constructed?
Mr. SELLS. We could get you a copy, yes.
[The information follows:]
Note: The following represents uniform criteria that NRCS uses at the State-level during the establishment of annual requests for financial and technical assistance.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR ESTABLISHING PRIORITIES FOR FUNDING SMALL WATERSHED (PL 83-566) PROJECTS
CATEGORY 1 - PROTECTION OF HUMAN HEALTH AND SAFETY (20 POINTS)
Check all sub-categories which apply to the project:
Loss of Human Life
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Loss of Property (private or public)
Loss of income (fisheries, orchards, etc.)
Water quality related (water supply, sewer system)
Lines of communication, emergency services
20 points 3 items checked or Loss of Human Lives
10 points 2 items checked
5 points 1 item checked
CATEGORY 2 -ECONOMICS (10 POINTS)
A. Net Benefits which will accrue when project is installed
4 points Are greater than $250,000
3 points Are between $100-250,000
1 point Are less than $100,000
B. Percent of total costs paid by sponsors (all non-federal costs)
3 points Sponsors contribute more than 50 percent of total cost
2 points Sponsors contribute between 25 and 49 percent
1 point Sponsors contribute between 15 and 24 percent
0 points Sponsors contribute less than 15 percent
C. Percent of project remaining to be installed
3 points Less than 25 percent of the project remains to be installed
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC 2 points Between 25 and 49 percent remains to be installed
1 point Between 50 and 75 percent remains to be installed
0 points More than 75 percent remains to be installed
CATEGORY 3 -ENVIRONMENTAL/CULTURAL (20 POINTS)
Check all sub-categories for which the plan protects or enhances the watershed environment. Since mitigation is to replace a damage created by the project, it becomes neutral and should not be counted.
Threatened and endangered species
Prime and unique farmland
Erosion and sedimentation
Water quality and quantity
Wild and scenic rivers
Coastal zone management
Fish and wildlife habitat
A. Environmental/cultural sensitivity rating
20 points >9 items checked
15 points 68 items checked
10 points 35 items checked
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC 5 points >3 items checked
CATEGORY 4 -SOCIO-ECONOMIC (15 POINTS)
Check all sub-categories which apply to the project:
Limited Resource farmers
Under served communities
Benefits to 50 percent or more of the watershed population
Small farming communities
15 points 3 items checked
9 points 2 items checked
3 points 1 item checked
CATEGORY 5 -PROJECT COMPLETION (15 POINTS)
A. - Project completion rating
5 points Can complete project within 1 year
3 points Can complete project within 2-3 years given funding
1 point Will take 4 or more years to complete
5 points Has been on books for more than 20 years
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC 3 points Has been on books between lo-20 years
0 points Has been on the books for less than 10 years
5 points Land rights expire within the fiscal year being funded
0 points Land rights still good for more than 1 year
CATEGORY 6 -REGIONAL AND STATE CONCERNS (20 POINTS)
This category is designed to ensure that unique regional or state concerns may be addressed by the Small Watershed Program. Items can be added and points assigned or the point assigned to this category can be distributed to give another category more weight.
EXPLANATION OF CRITERIA RANKING CATEGORIES AND DEFINITIONS
Category 1 - Threat to Human Life and Safety.
The protection of human life is of utmost importance. Any project with the elimination of threat to loss of life should receive maximum points. Threats to health and safety should receive consideration also.
Loss of Human Life - completion of the planned project will eliminate or significantly reduce a documented threat of loss of life.
Loss of Property (private or public)- completion of the planned project will eliminate or significantly reduce a documented threat to private or public property.
Loss of Income - completion of the planned project will eliminate or significantly reduce a documented threat to personal income. Examples might include fisheries, orchards, or industrial facilities.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Water Quality Health Threat - completion of the planned project will eliminate or significantly reduce a documented threat to a domestic water system or public sewer system.
Loss of Communication or Emergency Service - completion of the planned project will eliminate or significantly reduce a documented threat to communications, or access to emergency services.
Category 2 - Economics.
While economics is a major factor in any water resource project, it is difficult to place a great deal of weight on this factor. Many structural plans were developed before ''Principles and Guidelines'' and only enough benefits were identified to be sure the project was justified. In some cases, benefits were intentionally left out so that plans would be more acceptable, avoiding the ''they should do it themselves'' criticism. In contrast, watershed protection projects, have limited monetary benefits, relying on non quantifiable environmental and social benefits for justification.
Net Benefits: Increases in the net value of national output of goods and services, expressed in monetary units. These net benefits must adhere to procedures outlined in the Economic and Environmental Principles and Guidelines for Water and Related Land Resources Implementation Studies.
Percent of total costs paid by sponsors: The total non-federal costs of the proposed funding increment divided by the total cost of the proposed funding increment.
Percent of project remaining to be installed: The estimated total current dollars of the remaining project work to be installed (less the proposed funding increment), divided by the estimated total current dollars for the entire project.
Category 3 - Environment.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Based upon the NRCS's mission and vision, environmental protection and enhancement are given greater consideration than economic and social considerations. The more protection and enhancement of the environment contained in a project, the greater the points. Categories listed are the standard ones required by NEPA.
Cultural Resources - Protection, recovery, and preservation of historic and archaeological resources that would otherwise be lost as a direct result of project activity.
Threatened and Endangered Species - A threatened or endangered plant or wildlife species or critical habitat that will be benefited as a direct result of project activity.
Wetlands Created, Restored, or Enhanced - Acres of wetlands to be created, restored or enhanced as a direct result of project action or implementation. This item includes wetland areas to be created around dams and other structures as well as those created, restored, or enhanced as a project purpose.
Riparian Areas - Acres of riparian habitat restored where other land uses have caused their fragmentation or conversion. This includes establishment of trees, grasses, and shrubs on land adjacent to streams, rivers, and floodplains for filtering sediments, nutrients, and pesticides in surface runoff to improve water quality.
Prime and Unique Farmland - Protection of prime and unique farmlands by minimizing the extent to which project activities contribute to the unnecessary conversion of farmland to nonagricultural uses.
Floodplains - Land areas that are either subject to repeated flood damagefrequently flooded (is defined as more than a 50 percent chance of flooding in any year)or where flooding can be expected to reoccur occasionally (defined as a 550 percent chance of flooding in any year). Alternatives considered will have no adverse impacts and will allow no incompatible development in the floodplains.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Erosion - Land surface being worn away of the by running water, wind, ice, or other geological agents, including such processes as gravitational creep. It also includes detachment and movement of soil or rock fragments by water, wind, ice, or gravity
Sedimentation - solid material, both mineral and organic, that is in suspension, is being transported, or has been moved from its site of origin by the forces of air, water, gravity, or ice, and has come to rest on the earth's surface either above or below sea level
Water quality & quantity - For a water quality problem to exist, the water must be impaired for one or more uses, such as drinking water supply, fishing, recreation, wildlife habitat, livestock, or irrigation.. Watershed project measures are installed to ensure the protection, improvement, conservation, and management of water quality and quantity. Measures can be installed to address agricultural water management or non-agricultural water management purposes. Included under this would be project measure efforts to address irrigation, rural water supply, water quality management, water conservation, fish and wildlife, public recreation, and ground water recharge.
Wild & Scenic Rivers - Protection or enhancement of certain select rivers that, with their immediate environments, have outstanding, scenic, recreation, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values to be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environment shall be protected. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act specifically states that no department or agency shall recommend authorization of any water resources project that would have a direct and adverse effect on the values of one of the designated rivers.
Coastal Zone Management - Coastal zone management includes resource conservation measures for five major pollutant source categories: agriculture, forestry, urban runoff, marinas and recreational boating, and hydro-modification and wetland protection. Coastal zone means the coastal waters and the adjacent shore lands strongly influenced by each other and in proximity to the shorelines of coastal states, and includes islands, transitional and intertidal areas, salt marshes, wetlands and beaches. The term coastal waters means: in the Great Lakes area, the waters within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States consisting of the Great Lakes, their connecting waters, harbors, and estuary-type areas such as bays, shallows, and marshes; and in other areas it means those waters, adjacent to the shorelines, which contain a measurable quantity or percentage of sea water, including, but not limited to, sounds, bays, lagoons, bayous, ponds, and estuaries. The term coastal state means a state of the United
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCStates in, or bordering on, the Atlantic, Pacific, or Arctic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, Long Island Sound, or one or more of the Great Lakes. Coastal state also includes Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the trust Territories of the Pacific Islands, and American Samoa.
Air Quality - Reduction of livestock odors such as methane generated from livestock wastes (livestock odors)and dust particles (PM-10)from wind erosion are two products of agricultural air quality impairment. Air transport of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and dust particles also contribute to air quality environmental concerns.
Fish & Wildlife Habitat - Efforts made to create, restore, or enhance the habitat or environment for the breeding, growth, and development of water-based fish and wildlife, or to provide opportunities for public use, or both.
Category 4 - Social.
NRCS has a moral and legal obligation to make sure its programs are accessible to all. Sub-categories award points for accomplishments in these areas.
Historically Underserved Customers - Any farmer who, when compared to other farmers and farm operations in a given geographic area, such as a state, county or project area, have distinct disadvantages in obtaining U. S. Department of Agriculture program assistance.
Underserved Communities - A community that, when compared to other communities in a given geographic area, such as a state, county, or project area, has distinct disadvantages in obtaining U. S. Department of Agriculture program assistance.
Disadvantaged Communities - Are so classified when: housing values are less than 75 percent of the state average values; average per capita income for the last 3 years is less than 75 percent of the National average; or current unemployment is twice the national average over the past 3 years.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Cultural Sustainability - The protection or enhancement of a cultural resource in such a manner that the cultural aspects of the area are preserved. Example: Flood Prevention measures protect a sacred Native American Burial Ground.
Agricultural Sustainability - The protection or enhancement of an aspect of agriculture that will help preserve agricultural viability within the area. Example; Flood Prevention measures protect cropland preventing crops from being flooded out.
Direct Benefits to Watershed Population - Check this category if 50 percent or more of the population in the watershed receives direct measurable benefits from the project.
Small Farming Communities - Check this category if a community has 10,000 or less population, at least 20 percent of the local income is due to agricultural sources, and direct measurable benefits contributing to the viability of the community is due to the project.
Environmental Justice - All populations, including minority and low income communities are:
(1)provided the opportunity to comment before decisions are rendered,
(2)allowed to share in the benefits of,
(3)not excluded from, and
(4)not affected in a disproportionately high and adverse manner by government programs and activities affecting human health or the environment
Category 5 - Project Completion.
Part of the agency's efforts is the reduction of the unfunded commitment and the number of projects on the books. Emphasis is given to completing those projects which are near the completion. Future funding is not assured and therefore the more secure the funding, the better chance of completing the project and removing it from the un-funded commitment.
Good projects which meet the background checks should receive priority consideration based upon the length of time they have been kept waiting. The waiting period is considered from the time authorization to fund the plan was given.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Many sponsors went out and obtained the needed land rights for their project and then had to wait for their turn for funding. As time passes, some of these land rights have an expiration date if the structure is not installed.
Many repair jobs are necessary because of an immediate threat to loss of human life or, if the condition was allowed to continue, could result in more extensive or substantial increases in cost to get the job done. this work should be given priority and placed at the top of the list for funding. Work not deemed critical can be handled however desired.
Mr. MINGE. How does this project fit on that kind of an index or standard?
Mr. SELLS. I cannot say that I could answer that question outright today, but in what transfer back to you we could give you some relative standing of where the project is. I guess we haven't gotten to that part yet because it has not been fully approved yet.
Mr. MINGE. The reason I asked is that we have with the Conservation Reserve Program this environmental benefits index, which I am sure you are familiar with?
Mr. SELLS. Yes, sir.
Mr. MINGE. If there is a parallel way of evaluating projects and allocating what appear to be some fairly scarce Federal dollars I think it would be important for our subcommittee to know how this fits in compared to the other projects for which you have application.
Mr. SMITH. Would the gentleman yield on that just a second?
Mr. MINGE. I have a few more questions and I'll give you the floor.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC What crops are raised in the area, Mr. Ward, that are served by the project?
Mr. WARD. In our district we grow everything from vegetables to corn, small grain crops, livestock.
Mr. MINGE. It's a very diversified area.
Mr. WARD. It's very diversified.
Mr. MINGE. From feed grain to table crops.
Mr. WARD. Yes, sir, that is correct.
Mr. MINGE. How many cultivated acres, agricultural acres are served by this project?
Mr. WARD. There is approximately 23,000 of that is cultivated acres.
Mr. MINGE. And then you have some that are pasture, grazing acres?
Mr. WARD. Yes, sir, that is correct.
Mr. MINGE. Is there any analysis as to how much we would be investing per acre with this project?
Mr. WARD. Congressman, I have not run those figures so I can't answer that.
Mr. MINGE. Mr. Sells, do you know how much per acre?
Mr. SELLS. I do not have that figure in front of me.
Mr. MINGE. Could you furnish us with that too, so we would have some understanding with respect to the $26 million how much we are investing per acre for the benefits.
[The Department responded:]
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC About 24,745 acres would benefit from the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Watershed project. At $26 million in Federal funds, this results in a Federal cost of $1,010 and acre. Local costs are $22,261,300 or $865 an acre.
Mr. MINGE. Mr. Ward, what do the farmers and the ranchers pay for the water that they use? Is there some sort of a meter or how do you determine how much they pay?
Mr. WARD. Right now our landowners in the district pay a flat rate or a maintenance tax of $12 per acre each year and at the present time we are charging us farmers $8 a surface acre for the water which equates to approximately $24 an acre foot for the water.
Mr. MINGE. And that is on top of that $12?
Mr. WARD. Yes, sir, that is correct. They pay for the water each and every time they irrigate and that ranges anywhere from one irrigation to five and six irrigations per year, depending upon the weather.
Mr. MINGE. And is the water metered or how do you determine how much water is used for a particular farm?
Mr. WARD. At this time we just measure by the surface and allow the landowner to put the necessary amount of water on his crop. This program, and with other programs that we are beginning to implement ourself, we are going to the volumetric pricing. We haven't gotten there yet but we are working on doing settlement by volume. That is going to be a big conservation tool for us on the on-farm.
Mr. MINGE. To reduce the amount of water being used per acre?
Mr. WARD. Yes, sir, that is correct.
Mr. MINGE. Thank you. I would also like to say I commend you for a very excellent presentation. I think this is helpful to our subcommittee. Thank you. We appreciate your being here.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WARD. Thank you, sir.
Mr. BARRETT. Mr. Smith.
Mr. SMITH. A question, Mr. Sells. Are these decisions, following up on the question of prioritizing, is prioritizing accomplished by specific directives in appropriation bills or is everything at essentially the agency's discretion in deciding how much of the money goes first where?
Mr. SELLS. Not 100 percent at the discretion. There are, of course, the earmarks that we honor each and every year on some of the projects that are out there in the Small Watersheds Program.
Mr. SMITH. By earmarks, you mean appropriation language that directs that you do that ahead of everybody else?
Mr. SELLS. Yes. But the majority of the projects do lean on the cost benefit ratio of the project itself in order to evaluate its position on some kind of a ranking scale. The natural resource benefits that are involved, such as Mr. Ward has talked about on the water issues, is also used in a ranking process as well. So, basically, cost benefit and natural resource benefits, or environmental benefits that would be accrued from the project.
Mr. SMITH. And do I understand this project is paying farmers to put in new irrigation equipment?
Mr. SELLS. There would be some, I think. Yes, there would be some irrigation management practices as a part of this, and typically are in this part of the country.
Mr. SMITH. And how does that work?
Mr. SELLS. I was thinking as Mr. Ward was speaking, being from rural east Tennessee, and Mr. Jenkins would verify it, I am generally more interested in my area trying to get rid of water instead of trying to save it. So he is the expert in the irrigation and the efficiency issues. But, yes, a lot of those projects are very much central to irrigation.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. How does that work? How does that cost share work with paying farmers to buy new irrigation equipment?
Mr. SELLS. There is a general cost share that could be through this program or other programs as well, and, generally, cost share ratios will be anywhere fromgenerally around 75 percent of the cost share is Federal cost share in these type projects with producers.
Mr. SMITH. But do I understand, Mr. Chairman, that this legislation actually provides for cost share for farmers to buy irrigation equipment? Just from Mr. Bonilla's testimony, that was my understanding.
Mr. WARD. May I respond to that?
Mr. BARRETT. Yes, sir.
Mr. WARD. Mr. Smith, on the on-farm portion of this project, it would include equipment such as right now where most of our people have open ditches, it would provide for a cost share, a 50/50 cost share for either concrete on-farm ditches or a buried pipeline, tailwater retention pits to catch any tailwater that ran off. And I am not sure just how new equipment such as sprinkle systems and circle systems would fit in this project.
Mr. SMITH. So who would decide that?
Mr. SELLS. Those, Mr. Smith, are decided under the auspices of the guidelines through NRCS and how we implement the Small Watersheds Program. Generally, it would be around a 75 percent. Some elements of some cost share programs have a differing down to a 50/50 cost share. It depends on the type of equipment.
Mr. SMITH. There is nothing in the bill that relates to that?
Mr. SELLS. No, sir. That would be under the guidelines, the rules of the Small Watershed Program itself.
Mr. SMITH. So this would not be administered through the Farm Service Agency, it would be administered, on the cost share, through the Small Watershed administrators?
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SELLS. Yes. Through its inception, the Small Watershed Program has been administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Mr. SMITH. Partially what I am trying to measure is our farmers in Michigan, as well as Kansas, as well as Iowa, Minnesota, are all having problems, and we could certainly all useeverybody that is using irrigation, for example, could use some help from the Federal Government, having a more efficient irrigation system, whether it is a sprinkler or whether it is dribble irrigation, something to reduce the cost of producing agriculture. And so I am just trying to get a measure on whether my Michigan farmers should pay a tax to help those farmers in Texas and Oklahoma be more efficient as competitors.
Mr. SELLS. Well, I would not necessarily speak to the tax question, but from the standpoint of the Small Watershed Program, from coast to coast, and the varying kind of projects that are funded under it with local sponsors, there is all sorts of cost share programs or practices in upland treatments. Some of it is just dealing with water quality issues in a reservoir that is trying to get clean water to actually move into a water supply system, and then other parts of the country do deal with irrigation type issues.
So the cost shares will vary all across the board, like any of our other cost share programs do, EQIP or anything else.
Mr. SMITH. What percentage of your appropriations are determined by earmarks within an appropriation bill, as opposed to your prioritization of how much of what project should come first?
Mr. SELLS. I cannot give you an exact percentage, I have never actually looked at the numbers in that fashion. The majority of them are not encumbered by direct report language. And, in fact, I would say that the number of projects that have been directly earmarked actually have been declining over the last 3 to 5 years. So, actually, the flexibility, to use these
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. So, do I understand that this project would be eligible for money from the Small Watersheds Project without special legislation?
Mr. SELLS. Well, yes, once this committee has action on this size project and approved it for funding under the Small Watershed Program. Certain projects we do, based on their size, have to come either before this committee or the Transportation Infrastructure Committee, the Water Resources Subcommittee, for approval because of the scale, the amount of dollars that are going into the project.
There are a lot of projects that we fund under the program that do not require the committee's approval.
Mr. SMITH. So is there a dollar plateau, a dollar step?
Mr. SELLS. Yes, it is fiveexcuse me.
Mr. SMITH. No, I do not care about how much. That was just the
Mr. SELLS. It has to do with some dollar amount and also with the acre feet of water and sometimes the watershed scale as well. We can provide you some additional information on that specific if you wish.
Mr. SMITH. No, you do not need to. I was just curious.
Mr. SELLS. OK.
Mr. SMITH. Anyway, thank you, both for being here.
Mr. BARRETT. Mr. Moran.
Mr. MORAN. No questions, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BARRETT. Mr. Jenkins.
Mr. JENKINS. Mr. Chairman, I do not have any questions, but I am sorry that I was late and one of the witnesses got introduced before I got here, and so I am sure that the committee has already found out what I was going to tell the committee in advance, and that is Mr. Sells has a lifetime of experience in agriculture and in this activity about which he is testifying, and that experience, coupled with his great wisdom, will be very beneficial to this committee and anybody to whom he imparts it. And he has got theMr. Chairman, the kind of common sense, in addition to all that, that would be accepted in any State in this Union. I am sure you would be happy to have a dose of it out in Nebraska. We are happy to have Mr. Sells here this morning.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SELLS. I am truly humbled by your comments, sir.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mr. Jenkins.
In the event there might be an additional comment or two, or a question, Mr. Minge.
Mr. MINGE. Can you tell us, Mr. Ward, if any of the costs of the project are being bonded, that is, being financed with borrowing?
Mr. WARD. At this point, no, sir, there is not any being financed with borrowing.
Mr. MINGE. Can you tell us, Mr. Sells, if these projects around the country are financed in part with bonding?
Mr. SELLS. I do not think so. I would have to do some checking. It could be local contributions are to some degree done that way, but I would have to go back and look at the various projects that we have in place to see for certain.
Mr. MINGE. So that the capital costs are covered, at least traditionally, from what I understand, by a grant, and then the ongoing maintenance costs are covered by the annual maintenance fee, plus the water usage charge?
Mr. WARD. That is correct.
Mr. MINGE. I understand that the benefits are $4.2 million a year and I see that on the sheet it indicates that the on-site benefits are $600,000 and then $3.6 million is offsite, directly benefiting over a half a million people. Could you just describe how that $3.6 million is calculated, that is, who are the beneficiaries and what that means? And I am not sure to whom I should direct that.
Mr. SELLS. And I am not going to. These projects, of course, are developed and the analysis done out in the field, in Texas, in this case, where this particular BMA project is proposed to occur. The overriding majority of those offsite benefits are going to be to improvements in the aquifer, improvements into the water availability to that 1.3 million people I was talking about that are depending on that aquifer for the water supply. Those are the type benefits.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There are naturally some calculations of wildlife. There is even some calculations in projects as a whole of recreational benefits, other economic development opportunities, and a scale and group of economists probably could explain it much better than I. But there are a whole set of processes we go through in evaluating, and have over the history of the program evaluating those type of benefits.
Mr. MINGE. Could you furnish us with the index or whatever it is that you use then to calculate benefits, that would show how this one is calculated?
Mr. SELLS. Yes, sir. Certainly.
Mr. MINGE. Thank you. No further questions.
[The information follows:] "The Official Committee record contains additional material here."
Mr. BARRETT. Are there other comments or questions from any members of the panel?
Mr. BARRETT. Seeing Mr. Stenholm, would you care to make a statement?
Mr. STENHOLM. No, thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you.
This then will conclude the hearing on this particular issue, this particular district. We thank both of you for sharing with us. We hope to see you again, Mr. Ward, at some future point in time. Mr. Sells, you will continue to join us for the second panel.
Mr. SELLS. Yes, sir.
Mr. BARRETT. OK. Thank you very much.
Mr. WARD. In closing, Mr. Chairman, I would like to say again, thank you, folks, very much for your part in this project. It is a very important part for us and we really appreciate you all's attention. Thank you very much.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRETT. Thank you. We appreciate your attention and your sharing.
The second panel is composed of, again, Danny Sells, the Associate Chief of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, USDA. He will be joined by Bill Wilson, the past president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.
We welcome you, Mr. Wilson.
Mr. WILSON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BARRETT. And Mr. Sells, you may proceed at your convenience.
STATEMENT OF DANNY D. SELLS, ASSOCIATE CHIEF, NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Mr. SELLS. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you again for the opportunity to address the subcommittee.
I want to underscore that the issue of Aging Watershed Projects is one of great concern not only to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, but to the general public as well. We have distributed a copy of an information package on our Watershed Program around to the subcommittee, that you should have in front of you.
On the cover of this article, you will see a photograph of a dam constructed in Alma, AR in 1970 under the Public Law 566 program. This dam is over 100 feet tall and holds over 3,000 acre feet of water. But important than the dam is the community that is far more impressive. The buildings, schools, homes and recreation centers all depend upon this watershed protection for flood prevention. Also, the roads, bridges and the water supply of the town all depend upon this dam. It is very important to note that most of what you see below this dam, in the foreground of the photo, was not there before the dam was built, and that is a very important part of what we are discussing here today.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As I mentioned earlier, the Small Watershed Program yields annual benefits of about $800 million, but it would be impossible to fully capture what these watershed projects mean to communities like Alma. In many places in rural America, watershed structures really represent the security and viability of the local economy. Over the years, communities have eagerly responded to the program. As a result, as I have mentioned before, we have a backlog of over $1.5 billion in request for financial and technical assistance for Small Watershed Projects.
The fiscal year 2000 budget request is for $83 million. With these funds, approximately 60 to 70 construction and/or installation projects under the P.L. 566 program will be funded.
While we look forward to the upcoming work, I want to mention the rehabilitation of the existing projects, as is noted in the article we provided. Since 1948, NRCS and local sponsors have built over 10,000 small dams. Previous to 1962, these dams were designed for a 50-year life span. Many of these structures are now reaching the end of their design life. In fact, we have 29 which have already done so.
The rehabilitation discussion in and of itself recognizes that these dams may pose significant threats to human health, safety and to the environment. The deterioration of these structures threatens to adversely affect the estimated $8.5 billion infrastructure of flood control, rural water supplies and economic support established through these projects. As we approach the year 2000, over 2,000 structures will require restoration at a cost of over $500 million.
The point is the issue really has been presented to us today and the fact is it does have a budget impact. But most importantly, the communities that depend upon this infrastructure feel they face a threat to their security and their future economic viability. This is a serious issue and I hope we do not wait until there is a significant loss before we take action.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I will conclude with one parting thought. Some 40 years ago, our predecessors planted the seeds of a very successful program, a program that turned flooding and unproductive land into thriving communities. As a result, we have reaped the fruits and the benefits that these watershed projects have provided. But as we look to the future, we see that the orchard that has provided for us for so many years is in dire need of our attention and care. I hope we will do the right thing. I hope we do not choose to ignore those trees in the orchard that are dying, and take the necessary steps to ensure that the benefits of Small Watershed Program will remain viable for generations to come.
I thank the subcommittee and would be happy to take any questions you might have.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Sells appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, sir.
STATEMENT OF BILL R. WILSON, PAST PRESIDENT, OKLAHOMA ASSOCIATION OF CONSERVATION DISTRICTS, KINTA, OK
Mr. WILSON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I am Bill Wilson, a rancher from Kinta, OK. Thank you for the opportunity to appear here and discuss two issues related to USDA NRCS Small Watershed Programs.
First, for 50 years, these programs have made it possible for local people to address local flooding, water quality, quantity and soil erosion problems. Through the USDA NRCS, Congress has provided technical and financial assistance to local sponsors as partners. Local sponsors have also provided local financial assistance and have fulfilled operation and maintenance responsibilities in return.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As noted in my written testimony, an unfunded Federal commitment of $1.5 billion for this popular program exists. This is a federally assisted program which was provided $2.20 in benefits for every dollar in cost, a record unequaled in Federal programs.
While I come from a State with a $148 million unfunded commitment, I would like to turn my focus to a second issue which has become reality for those who have completed projects which are approaching the end of their design life. That is the issue of aging, failing infrastructure. Many of these dams were designed to have a 50 year life span, and as we approach the end of that life, many are in need of rehabilitation.
This is not a time for placing blame or of ignoring a growing problem, this is a time for action. The benefits provided by these projects, the health and safety of our communities and citizens, as well as the infrastructure itself, is at risk. These structures have performed their duties well, so well, in fact, that many Americans who enjoy the benefits do not even know they exist.
Congress, USDA, NRCS and local sponsors have left a legacy written on the land. As you fly to and from your Congressional districts, you can see many of the more than 10,000 upstream flood control dams which have been built in over 2,000 watershed projects located in 46 States across the Nation.
Without attention, this legacy on the land becomes an increasingly dangerous liability both locally and nationally. In the next 10 years, over 1,300 dams nationwide will reach the end of their 50-year life expectancy. More than 60 percent of the 10,000 dams nationwide are more than 30 years old. Many of the metal and concrete components show deterioration due solely to age. Sediment basins are becoming filled, eliminating water storage capacity and reducing flood control capability. Homes and businesses have been built below dams that were originally designed to protect only rural land.
Fifty years ago, when Congress and USDA embarked on these projects, there was little concern for what to do after the end of the 50-year design life. Today the Small Watershed Program represents an $8.5 billion Federal investment and a $6 billion local investment in the infrastructure of this Nation.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Today we are faced with a number of serious health, safety and infrastructure issues surrounding the Small Watershed Program. In facing the reality of these issues, Congressman Frank Lucas has introduced H.R. 728, a bill which would amend current Small Watershed laws to give USDA, NRCS the authority and responsibility to address these problems, once again, in partnership with local sponsors. I commend Mr. Lucas for his foresight in offering this bill. As I have heard the Congressman say, ''By spending pennies now, we can save dollars in the future.''
To date, there has not been a major failure of a structure constructed under this program. It is my hope that with the passage of H.R. 728, we can start to rehabilitate these structures before a disaster occurs. H.R. 728 offers sponsors as well as Congress an opportunity to be proactive in protecting this national investment in infrastructure, as well as the health and safety of the citizens and communities that these projects protect.
While local sponsors have worked very hard to be responsible partners, alone they do not have the technical or financial resources to solve major rehabilitation tasks. Congress and the Federal Government played a major role in assisting local sponsors in the past, and I believe you have a responsibility to continue to be a partner in ensuring that this vital infrastructure continues to perform as designed.
There is a national interest in helping to maintain flood damage reduction, protection of life and property and continuing to provide water resources benefits to our citizens. The authorities and funding of H.R. 728 will rekindle the partnership which made the Small Watershed Flood Control Program one of the most effective and efficient federally assisted programs in our country's history.
In closing, let me ask this committee to assist in moving H.R. 728 to the floor of the House for consideration and a vote for passage.
I would be happy to respond to any questions.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The prepared statement of Mr. Wilson appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, sir.
Mr. Sells, let me share with a statement that I read last evening, and then perhaps a question. It indicated that the 1996 assessment of the Watershed Program States that about $750 million is needed to address your concerns and the concerns of others who are interested in aging dams and water projects. The President's budget calls for using Watershed Program funds to accomplish the goals of the animal feeding operations strategy.
NRCS's current backlog in the Watershed Program is about $800 million and NRCS documents indicate that it would like to reduce that to about $400 million. You would concur?
Mr. SELLS. Yes.
Mr. BARRETT. NRCS has endorsed legislation that would eliminate the requirement that Small Watershed Projects must provide at least 20 percent benefit to agriculture, which I would assume means that NRCS would like to concentrate its efforts on perhaps more costly urban or suburban projects, which goes back to my question earlier of the first panel. Mr. Sells, I would ask how you plan to do all of this when the President has asked for only $85 million and about 543 staff years in his budget for watershed operations.
Mr. SELLS. Yes, Mr. Chairman, I guess the first thing I would say, we are all dealing with the issues of trying to figure out how we do more and more at the same try to balance the budget and deal with the things that help our economy grow for certain. So we are able to proceed in a fashion that is as fast at this particular point in time as we potentially have the ability to proceed, given the funds we are appropriated in the final appropriations bill, be it for this year or be it for the 2000 bill.
In addressing the issue of the 20 percent agriculture benefits and your comment that maybe we are interested in the most costly, more urbanized type projects, and I do not think really that is theI do not think, I know that is not the intention of what we are trying to do. Even in the comments relative to the animal feeding operation strategy, we realize that these communities exist today in a watershed, in an area that is impacted by elements of our society that are rural in agriculture, as well as urban and suburban as well. We are finding quite often that is necessary for us address the whole host of issues if we are going to impact just the agricultural issues, and especially those issues that our agricultural producers that are needing to address because the larger group in society is wanting us to do so.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The 20 percent agriculture benefit removal would allow us to move into some areas and help address some of those larger issues. That will benefit the entire watershed, admittedly. But in benefiting that entire watershed, agriculture will truly benefit as a part of that as well.
But I think we do need, together with us as an agency and a department, as well as with you as a committee and the appropriators, need to move to that kind of a process with the understanding that we do have a rather large backlog, and that at some point in the future, this could benefit us greatly, but we need to be prudent in knowing when we should be moving toward a broader scope to the program, shall we say, and look forward to working with the committee on identifying when that time may come.
Mr. BARRETT. Well, there seems to be quite a difference here in what you are suggesting and what at least the administration is proposing, which raises, of course, an antenna at least in my mind. Any other comments?
Mr. SELLS. No, sir, not really at this point. But it is an issue we need to continue to address. But beyond question, it is an issue, whether it is on the aging infrastructure or just the general Watershed Program itself, and really, even on the aging infrastructure, it is an issue we feel responsibility to bring to the attention of the sponsors, and work with the sponsors on, as well as to the attention of our authorizing as well as appropriating committees, that it is something we need to deal with together and not necessarily something we are specifically making a funding request for today.
Mr. BARRETT. Well, you will be attempting or are attempting to change that cost sharing situation, as you have indicated. I think that has been attempted in the past, has it not?
Mr. SELLS. Yes, it has been discussed in the past. Yes, sir.
Mr. BARRETT. I think we have rejected at least twice. I think the Senate, in their Conference Committee, rejected it maybe.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SELLS. Are you talking about the agriculture benefit piece?
Mr. BARRETT. Yes.
Mr. SELLS. I cannot say that I can quote the exact history, but we have had discussions, and definitely the committee has not had the desire for us to move in that direction and remove the
Mr. BARRETT. The in 1996 farm bill I think we rejected it.
Mr. SELLS. Yes.
Mr. BARRETT. They rejected it in the Conference.
Mr. SELLS. Yes. You are correct, sir.
I will just add that even in my home community back in east Tennessee, as I grew up as a child, and the field over behind where my house is now was full of cattle or full or corn, or corn silage, whatever may have been the case that year, there is nothing but a whole lot of houses there now. The whole watershed that I live in is impacted tremendously by a lot of things, and those things in that watershed are impacting me as an agriculture producer as well. And these are issues we need to address, and we need to address together, but we need to make sure that we do it in a prudent fashion.
Mr. BARRETT. Well, I appreciate that. In conclusion, I obviously have increased sensitivity to the fact you may be trying to move away from agriculture and a little closer to some of your urban and suburban neighbors.
Mr. MINGE. Mr. Sells and Mr. Wilson, I would like to ask about the safety hazards that are posed by these dams that may fail and what standards we have to ensure that there is not development that is below the dams that would be wiped out by such a failure. Could you explain, Mr. Wilson, what standards exist or how this is dealt with?
Mr. WILSON. In the beginning of this program, 50 years ago, there were very few standards set. This was basically viewed as a rural program, rural projects, and most of the structures actually protected rural land. But we have learned, as Mr. Sells talked about his home town and a lot of other parts of the country, as this country continues to develop, a lot of these sites have become surrounded by subdivisions and commercial development and that.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The States, and there is Federal legislation, but the States have dam safety agencies that evaluate the safety criteria of these dams, not only these, but all dams, and they are becoming very concerned in a lot of cases that the dams were built in one class of safety and now they would, you know, if they were built today, they would be in a new classification, in other words, there is new risk out there.
To answer your question about what is being done, or what could be done to eliminate building in the flood plain below a structure, and there again, in the original, 50 years ago, in some of the old projects, there was nothing done in that area. In the newer projects now, to my knowledge, there is almost always a situation where there is some kind of zoning imposed, at least the area below the dam, that would be flooded if it failed. Construction is eliminated in those areas.
Mr. MINGE. Well, let me just interject here that my concern is that, regardless of who built the dam initially, if the Federal Government becomes involved in improvements or restoration, safety measures, that there is almost a perpetual liability that one is signing onto in these projects. Is there anything in the current law that would somehow address the question of Federal risk so that we minimize the liability the Federal Government might have if the improvements that we make turn out to be inadequate?
Mr. WILSON. There is language in this bill that talks about that. But we need to keep in mind that part of the purpose of eliminating flooding or reducing flooding is so that the area below a structure can be developed. So we do not want to completely close that off to development. But, yes, in the bill itself, there is some discussion and some language that talks about being able to impose restrictions, if you would, on that area below a site to help eliminateor maybe not eliminate but alleviate the liability.
Mr. MINGE. Is it adequate to both protect the Federal Government from claims and to, I guess, deal in a reasonable fashion with the problem?
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WILSON. Well, I am not an attorney, and so I do not know for sure that it is. I think it is. It is the intent that it be adequate to do that. There again, the liability issue is answered by the courts if a case is filed.
Mr. MINGE. Have we ever had a claim made against the United States?
Mr. WILSON. Not that I am aware of, but it is possible. I am not aware of it.
Mr. MINGE. Have we had any of these structures fail and have substantial loss of property?
Mr. WILSON. We have not had a major failure, no. We have had a few times when we have disasters, flooding, and there has been some failure that has been addressed by FEMA and some of those people. We have emergency watershed funds that Congress appropriates through NRCS to help alleviate when there is emergencies each year. But there has not been a major failure of a dam in any of these dams that we have, this over 10,000 structures.
Mr. MINGE. I would like to ask a general question of both of you. I am familiar with the proposed project in the Midwest that would cost several hundred million dollars to transport water, probably irrigation, probably domestic use and so on. The proponents say they would like to have a Federal grant to get this started, build the project, and then they would take care of it. I am wondering with respect to these projects, whether it is the type of irrigation project that we discussed with the previous testimony, or these dams, if we ever really withdraw from some sort of responsibility for the project in the eyes of the communities, or if these become almost perpetual Federal projects that we end up, at least in some political sense, being viewed as having responsibility for. Could either one of you comment on that quickly?
Mr. SELLS. Well, I think, Mr. Minge, that in reality, the answer is somewhere in between the two options you laid out, and I think that is clearly where it is. As you well know, in the current program the operations and maintenance agreements that are a part of the contract with the local sponsors in these projects is real, and most of the project sponsors do a very, very good job of maintaining their structures, much the same as this one that is shown on the front of the handout we gave you.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The reality is though that things change and this being actually a town of props, I will actually use one, if Doug would bring it up for me. These structures are much like anything else. They are brick and mortar, they are concrete and steel. This is aand actually it is upside down, so that you do know I know a little bit. This is part of a gate valve that is in a structure, Mr. Lucas, that actually came out of Oklahoma.
The maintenance was done perfectly in this situation. All the maintenance in the world will not prevent this type of thing from happening to steel, and it is just a reality of what we deal with.
Someone mentioned to me earlier how nice the new carpet looked here in the committee room, and it really does, and that is a maintenance activity. But as we all know, that sometimes you have to look things like over at the Botanical Garden, that we need to do a complete overall.
And, similarly, with some of our projects out there, especially those that probably would not even quality today under the 20 percent agriculture benefit limit, you know, present some issues that we all have potential responsibility in, if not legally, at least from a moral standpoint. So I think it lays somewhere in between the two issues that you raise, but I think it is a very important discussion that we begin to have.
Mr. WILSON. If I might respond briefly, this is an infrastructure issue and it is really no different when you look at it that way than the highway program or any of the other utility programs that we have in this country. Highways wear out, too, as we all know. And they have to repaired, and sometimes they have to have a major overhaul. Like Mr. Sells said, operation and maintenance can go to a certain point, but it cannot prevent failure if components wear out. And that will always, in my view, be some responsibility, as he said, morally, if not legally, and maybe that is perpetual. You know, it is an ongoing process and it is part of the infrastructure of this country.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MINGE. Thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. Mr. Lucas, before you take your turn at asking questions, inasmuch as this is your bill, if there is no objection, I would like to encourage you to make an opening statement if you wish.
STATEMENT OF HON. FRANK D. LUCAS, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA
Mr. LUCAS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate that indulgence. In some ways I feel sort of like the father at the high school basketball game, I want to coach so bad I can not stand it, the last few minutes of discussion here. But thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to hear witnesses on this important program.
In particular, thank you to our panelists. Mr. Wilson, a fellow Oklahoman, a farmer, rancher, a land surveyor, a member of the Conservation District for Haskell County, past president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, past chairman of the National Watershed Coalition, a gentleman who understands what we are talking about. And Mr. Sells also.
Rehabilitating these aging watershed infrastructures is something we are all faced with in this country. As we have heard said this morning, over 10,000 of these structures all over our great Nation. Yes, 2,000 of them are in Oklahoma, but over 10,000 across this great Nation. Most, if not many, were planned and designed to last for 50 years. As we observed in Oklahoma on the 4th of July in 1998, yes, last summer, in the Cordell at the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the first USDA floodwater retarding structure, we have crossed that mark, and that dam was just one of approximately 1,000 now that will reach its life expectancy and go beyond in the next 10 years.
That is why I introduced this bill, I believe it is time to address the rehabilitation needs of these aging infrastructures. I know that many people are well aware that the Federal Government paid the construction costs of these dams, but you need to remember that under current law, there is no Federal authority or funds authorized to rehabilitate them. And, yes, the repair cost, and a classic example was that steel valve, just a piece out of a valve that was held up, is a classic example. The local sponsors have done yeoman's work, but there is a limit to what they could do. And, clearly, it is in the Federal Government's best interest and, yes, I think within our sense of responsibility, to ensure this dam's safety. And that is why I introduced this Small Watershed Rehabilitation Amendment bill.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If passed, the bill authorize the Secretary to provide financial assistance to local organizations for up to 65 percent of the total cost of rehabilitation. The legislation provides $60 million per year for up to 10 years, beginning in the year 2000, to help us rehabilitate these structures and ensure that our communities enjoy the benefits that these projects have offered, and in some instances now for over 50 years.
We have discussed the potential of what can occur. We cannot and we should not wait until disaster happens. All too often in Congress we are accused of never being proactive but always reactive, waiting until some horrendous circumstance has occurred and then rising to the occasion. This is an opportunity to be proactive, to spend, as Billy quotes, my favorite line, ''spend some pennies to save those dollars of investment'' that we have made over the last 50 years.
It would take, I understand, somewhere in the range of $8.5 billion to replace these 10,000 structures. Let us spend a few million dollars in a systematic fashion to save that huge investment. After all, if there is a classic definition for a successful project, or in this case, partnership between the Federal Government and private and local entities, it is the one where when people drive the road in this great Nation, and they drive by an example of a project, they do not have a clue what it does, and that describes these dams. They have been so successful that even in the rural areas, most people know they are there, and they know they exist, but they do not really have a clue why. That is the epitome of how things are supposed to be work, to be so successful as to almost be ignored by folks.
No, we are not building any new dams here, and, no, we are trying to do something before there is a failure. In this country we have had a tradition, starting with our very founding fathers here over 200 years ago, yes, they engaged in canal projects, and they went to railroad projects and to highway projects, of providing infrastructure that benefits everyone. If we catch floodwater, in my example of western Oklahoma, we provide direct benefit, the protection of life and property to every citizen from that point all the way until you get to the Port of New Orleans, Mr. Chairman, and that is a good return on our investment.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I appreciate your indulgence. And if I could now turn to Mr. Wilson for a question.
I know, Billy, you have answered this, but if you wouldn't mind reiterating again, there will be those who will say that the Federal Government should not have a responsibility for sharing in the cost of rehabilitating these structures. Once again, if you would, having worked with those local entities on the local, State and Federal level, tell us again one more time why you think what you think about that statement.
Mr. WILSON. Well, when these structures were built starting 50 years ago up to the current year, they are still ongoing, there is an agreement that the Federal Government will do certain things and the local sponsors will do certain things, and one of the things that the local sponsors agree to do was the operation and maintenance, and they have done that well.
The Federal Government agreed to do the design, the inspection, and to pay construction costs for the flood control part. Now in some instances there have been some added height to the dams for more storage, for rural water districts for instance to use that for water supply. In that case that rural water district or that local sponsor had to provide the funding for that additional cost, but the Federal Government only pays for the construction up to the flood control portion of the project.
Everybody has done what they agreed to do. The Federal Government did its job, the NRCS has done what they agreed to do in the agreement, and the local sponsors have done what they agreed to do. What we are faced with, as I said in my testimony, some of them are silted-ina 50-year lifespan and some of them silting in sooner than that, when they silt in the basin for silt they still have the flood control, but then that starts to encroach on the flood control and reduces the efficiency of the project.
Components fail just like this. Concrete components fail. There are things that happen to these things that nobodyit is really nobody's fault. I mean it is just a fact of age. There is a responsibility I think for the Federal Government to remain a partner in helping to rehabilitate these.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It is clear in your bill, Mr. Lucas, that this money will not be spent for operation and maintenance. That is spelled out in the bill. It is understood by the local sponsors and there should be no confusion there. This money, if appropriated, would only be used to rehabilitate and to prolong the life and the benefits of one of these structures, so yes it is very important that the Federal Government remain a partner.
Mr. LUCAS. Clearly on the liability question and then, as many of my colleagues know, I occasionally like to point out that I am not an attorney so I have a layman's perspective of these issues. If there is a liability question and the Government is exposed, having done the design work 50 years ago, it would appear to me in our bill that we don't expand that any. If anything, we provide protection by assuring that there will not in any reasonably foreseen set of circumstances be a failure.
That is the key, to make sure that these structures continue to do what they have done so well in the past.
Mr. WILSON. That's true. You don't have to worry about the liability so much if you don't have a failure in the first place, and that is the important part of this deal.
I am not sure that the Federal Government, you know, can say that they are not legally responsible. I think the courts would make that determination if a case was ever filed, but we hope, you and I hope, that that never happens and that we never get to that point.
Mr. LUCAS. And I would offer the observation that if we do not rehabilitate these structures and they cross that 50-year planned expectancy the question then arises who becomes responsible to decommission? Who takes these structures out? There is a huge cost entailed there.
It is just more cost effective to spend those pennies, and I must say to Mr. Sells, your folks from the Chief on down have been a pleasure to work with in this area. Sometimeslet's just say they have been a pleasure to work with. [Laughter.]
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRETT. Mr. Stenholm.
Mr. STENHOLM. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just a couple of comments.
Mr. Lucas, I think you have a very good bill. Having the similar interest in Texas that you and the witness, Mr. Wilson, and others have, I think it is something worthy of consideration, and I look forward to working with you on that.
The observation I want to make, Mr. Chairman, is I thought your first question to Mr. Sells was right on target. Now many times we propose things, but yet we do not provide the wherewithal to do it. I think that is where we all have to be a little sensitive to that, and I was very glad to see, Mr. Chairman, that you were one of those that supported the ''Blue Dog Budget'' because that budget makes it possible for us to consider Mr. Lucas's bill. If you look at the budget that passed yesterday, the funds I do not believe are going to be there for Mr. Lucas's bill or for any of the other things like many of us are interested in for the reason which, Mr. Lucas and Mr. Wilson, you say spending pennies today to save dollars tomorrow is an excellent investment.
But I think we are going to have the opportunity, and that is why I like what I have heard this morning. The need is there, the hearing, the previous witnesses and all, are talking about something that I think we would be derelict in our duty as this committee and in the Congress not to address, for the safety reasons as well as I observed in my district we have a couple of small towns downstream called Dallas and Fort Worth, and they have flood control problems, and we are finding now, working with NRCS, that one of the most efficient ways to deal with the Dallas-Fort Worth problem is by dealing with the Small Watershed Project. It is a very efficient, good way to deal with it, but here again I hope that in the spirit of which this hearing is being held and the answer Mr. Sells gave, we are going to have an opportunity to work this out as we deal from the budget that passed yesterday, as we deal with the long, hot summer on appropriations, that Mr. Chairman, the wisdom that you have shown by voting for the ''Blue Dog Budget'' will prevail and that the overwhelming majority of this committee, which a majority have supported it.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But we cannot ask to spend these pennies unless we are willing to appropriate them, and when you look at the budget that passed yesterday I must say the money is not there, Mr. Lucas, for your bill, but let us hope we can work with the NRCS, with the Administration, with this committee to see that we might put a few pennies into this so that we might not only save dollars in the long-run but also lives, because there is a safety question that gets in some of these, not all of themnot all of thembut in some of them it does become a very serious problem.
Mr. Chairman, I commend you for holding this hearing and I certainly look forward to looking with you and members of your committee to see that we might make a positive contribution along the Small Watershed Projects.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mr. Stenholm.
I would like to pick up on a couple of things that have been said, just an extra few minutes here. Mr. Minge has indicated perhaps a follow-up question or two as well.
Mr. Wilson, you talk about shortfall funding over the past few years. Mr. Stenholm has touched on it. I touched on it, and it is serious. I understand that. I recognize it. It is especially serious in light of the testimony that has been provided here today.
Question to you: If you had $100 million, where would you spend it on Small Watershed Projects? What would you do?
Mr. WILSON. If this bill is enacted and the authority is there for rehabilitationlet me get the questionand so what you really want to know, would I spend it on this or on the base program?
Mr. BARRETT. Yes. Would you rehabilitate? Would you construct new projects? What would you do?
Mr. WILSON. I would spend it on the base program. That is what I would do. That is my personal opinion.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think it is very important that we appropriate new money for H.R. 728 because there are a lot of local sponsors out there, sitting out there. I talked to people who were here on the first panel and they have gone out and they have done the surveys and the engineering work, and they have got the land rights, the easements, and all that in place and all they are sitting there waiting for is the Federal cost share portion of that.
Some of those people have been sitting there 10, 15 years waiting on that. I would hate for us to further erode that $100 million and put it into rehabilitation and repair. It is a tough question.
Now I understand where you are coming from but we need new money, not only in the base program but new money for H.R. 728.
Mr. BARRETT. And some people might feel we need some for education as well.
Mr. WILSON. They might.
Mr. BARRETT. Yes. Thank you. Mr. Sells, are any watershed operations or planning funds in your agency used for the American Heritage Rivers initiative?
Mr. SELLS. I would just comment first that I was sort of surprised that Billy did not say that he would spend that $100 million in Oklahoma. [Laughter.]
But I sure could not improve on the response he gave to you.
The American Heritage Rivers Program is managed through the overall Watersheds and Wetlands Division for our agency's small participation in that program that includes the Small Watersheds Program.
Mr. BARRETT. Can you give us a number of
Mr. SELLS. We have about one and a half staff years that are dedicated to that. I think the budget for 2000 might indicate two and a half staff years for that, for some of the coordinators on some of the 10 designated rivers under the program that the President put forward and announced back earlier in the year, if I am correct.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Of course, what that is doing is for the purpose of trying to coordinate this program and the activities already ongoing in those areas through this type program or other programs through our agency and trying to coordinate that with other Federal agency programs as well that are trying to address various issues along some of those rivers in order to best utilize those funds and try to eliminate overlapping.
More so than in spending new money it is about trying to help make sure we are spending the current funds that are dedicated to those projects more efficiently.
Mr. BARRETT. One and a half staff years. Do you have any dollar amount?
Mr. SELLS. Well, the staff years generally are going to be for us around $55,000 to $60,000 on average and I can get that back to you in a response and I may stand corrected.
Mr. BARRETT. I won't hold you to an exact number.
Mr. SELLS. About $135,000 is indicated in the information that the staff related.
Mr. BARRETT. Fine, that will help.
Mr. SELLS. OK.
Mr. BARRETT. Going backand again I guess I am retreating to the urban, suburban and especially when I look at the beautiful cover here, and going back to comments made earlier, Mr. Sells, your response to Mr. Minge, you touched on it as well, with the suburban areas we are going to have a better tax base. There's no question about it, and they will be able to float bond issues. They will be able to use other interesting financial tricksthat is a poor wordbut they will be able to deal with problems that you can't deal with right now, certainly under the present set of circumstances, and here's a program that historically has benefitted people in rural America.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now are we refocusing again on that better tax base, tax dollars coming in? Your comments? I am sorry to beat a dead horse, but
Mr. SELLS. No, and even if the horse was dead maybe could get a handle on it.
I believe that we actually sort of have three segments. We have sort of what is called urban and sort of what is called rural and sort of what is called agricultural, and especially the latter two are encroaching on each other every day. The fact of where farm land is and our productive farm land and the sprawl issues and those things, how they are interacting with one another are truly issues we are trying to deal with from a standpoint of protecting the productive capacity of this Nation.
The opportunity to work through some of these programs together to address mutual issues, the opportunity is definitely there, but as I indicated it's something we need to continue to work together on to try to address. It is not as easy, as I am sure you are aware, as I wish it was, that we could just sort of clearly define these things one to one and this is clearly agricultural and very rural and this is clearly urban, and who knowsmaybe the opportunity for some of those funding tricks you indicated may give us the ability to stretch limited Federal dollars, and that is one of the things that we work on each and every day in trying to leverage those non-Federal dollars to make the Federal dollars go farther in serving our customers and our clients out there, so it is not a dead horse. I think it is an issue we need to continue to discuss, and I appreciate the opportunity to do so.
Mr. BARRETT. Well, I think Mr. Lucas has a good bill here, but I just wonder about we may be refocusing on the problems in richer suburban, urban America here as opposed to what we should be focusing on.
With that, Mr. Minge.
Mr. MINGE. Thank you, and I would like to address sort of a set of comments to both you, Mr. Lucas, and to the two witnesses, because I am interested in your response to them and I won't try to ask these as separate questions but instead just run through them.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC First, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Clinton administration attempted about 5 years ago to impose a new approach to Army Corps projects that would require that funding be limited to those that have an interstate character, and I happen to be very familiar with this because a project in my Congressional district was caught in this situation, one that was actually underway, so I was not entirely pleased with it, but I recognize that what they were attempting to do was to develop some standards for how you cut Federal spending and limit it to, so to speak, federally identified problems that the States could not be expected to take on.
In this respect, I note that the States generally have had budget surpluses for the last several years and financially they are in a better position than the Federal Government to deal with projects if indeed these projects are important within the States, and if they are not important within the States then why should we be doing them? So there is sort of a question of allocation of responsibility between State and Federal Government.
The second thing that I noticed is that there were scores of projects, perhaps hundreds in the pipeline waiting for approval, and that the community in my district had waited for 25 years for the Army Corps of Engineers to move this project up to the level where it would get funded. In the meantime, construction costs had increased dramatically and we had had two floods that had cost several million dollars in the communities.
If this had not been, if there had not been the hope of Federal money, this community and the State perhaps would have gone ahead and done the work, avoided some of the flood losses and everybody would have been happy, but having waited for the Federal money, there was a lot of grumbling about the project and criticism of the Federal Government.
I note here that we have $1 1/2 billion of backlogged projects in the one program that we discussed, and I cannot recall what the figure is in this program, but it looks like it would be very substantial and that the appropriations would not be nearly commensurate with the need, so that this level of frustration again creeps in, and it parallels what we have seen like for the Beginning Farmer Program, where we have people standing in line for several years waiting for a rather small amount of appropriated funds to be allocated.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Finally, in this setting it is almost irresistible for Members of Congress to seek earmarks in appropriations bills to move projects in their Congressional districts to the top of the line and I find that a rather distasteful process here in Congress because we are essentially gaming each other, and we are not allocating resources based upon the needs that exist in the country so much as the position of members of Congress in various committees and seniority and what they can bring home to their districts, and it is not that these projects are not deserving. It is just that the money is allocated on a basis other than national priorities and the earmarking process for many of us has become quite offensive.
I just raise this as a frustration that I see and it has these different dimensions. Finally, I ask if it is possible for us to include in this or have you already included in this, Mr. Lucas, a requirement that the States that apply for and receive these funds for restoration of the structures take steps to reduce the amount of silting that will occur in the future. Because I note that many of these structures have impoundment areas that are largely silted in, and often that is a result of not acting aggressively to deal with problems of erosion, and I know that in the operations that we have here there are many discussions about trying to deal with erosion in watersheds and improve water quality, and yet there is a lot of resistance to the Federal Government getting into it, but I can see that as these structures, impoundment areas, are silted in we end up with part of the responsibility of comingor at least perceived of the responsibility of coming up with the money to deal with this silting problem, which is one that we currently do not attempt to address.
Those are my four points and I am interested in whatever time can be allocated to this to whatever comments you would have on it. Thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. Either of you care to comment?
Mr. WILSON. Want me to go first?
Mr. MINGE. You have 15 seconds. [Laughter.]
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WILSON. The first issue, the Corps of Engineers and you called it the interstate character or something, you know, projects, the way I see that is kind of like Mr. Lucas said a while ago. When you look at a watershed project, you need to look at where the benefits are, and they are all downstream from where the structure is. As he said a while ago, the benefits, if they are in Cheyenne, OK, actually accrue all the way to the Port of New Orleans, so if you look at it in that sense, I suppose it is an interstateor at least the benefits are.
The ARS, interestingly enough, has a lot of statistics on Lake Texoma for instance and the amount of siltation that has been reduced over the 50 years that these structures have been in place, primarily on the Washata River system there in Oklahoma as to how much silt has been reduced that would have gone into Lake Texoma had they not been there, so there is some numbers out there that were created and developed by ARS a number of years ago that would kind of talk about that.
The State budget surpluses, there again we deal with State legislatures. It's the same as we deal with Congress, you know, and we work with whatever decisions that are made. I would say that in this piece of legislation the proposal is that 40 percent of the money for this work come from local sources and only 60 percent from the Federal part of it. As Mr. Sells or someone said earlier, these have been kind of a 5050 cost shared deal historically throughout this program, so the States have been involved in these projects.
I am not sure that at least in my areayou talked about if the Federal money had not been there, perhaps the State or the local would have gone ahead and done the project. That may be true in some cases. I live in Kinta, OK, a town of 300 people. I live 2 miles outside that on the ranch out there, so I live in very remote area. We don't have the tax base there to do a project, so I am afraid what would happen in your scenario is that we would not get the project built. It just wouldn't happen. We don't have the money locally without the Federal assistance to do that, so that is another side.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now there are some areas where there is a good tax base in urban areas where, for instance, your colleague from California is gone but I know in California there have been some situations where local sponsors went ahead or wanted to go ahead and construct sites and wait for the Federal cost share portion to come in later years or something because they had the money locally to do it, but where I live that is not the case. Where Congressman Lucas lives that is not the case. There's just not enough tax base there to have that option, so without the Federal infusion in this project, we would not have the benefits and enjoy the benefits out there.
As far as the Congressional earmarks, what can I say? I agree with you. We work again with whatever decisions are made, and if someone earmarks a project, NRCS is going to spend the money there. I'd bet that. I mean that is just reality. If we didn't have earmarks, and we decided priorities based on benefits, I think we would all be better off.
As far as the silting, you talked about it, your last point, one of the requirements in this program from year one has been that 50 percent of the land above a site had to be treated with conservation practices before a site was eligible for Federal funding. In Oklahoma we actually raised that to 75 percent. That is a State option and before we build a project in Oklahoma 75 percent of the land above that site, and this is on an individual site basis, has to be treated with conservation practices in place before construction can begin.
Now what happens in some of those instancesland use changes. For instance, we have one particular site that is totally silted in, in Grady County, OK, and when that site was built and designed that was all range land and it was in pasture, and some brush, and it did not erode very well. Shortly after that, somebody discovered oil on that land and they went in and drilled a bunch of oil wells and they spilled a lot of saltwater across that landscape and killed the vegetation. Some of it is completely denuded, and it eroded and filled up that structure. That was something that could not be foreseen by the people that designed that site.
Those are the kind of things we deal with out there, so those would be my responses to your comments.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mr. Wilson, very much.
Mr. MORAN. Mr. Chairman, thank you. I appreciate Mr. Lucas's introduction to this legislation and his leadership on this issue. I am interested in just a couple of questionsanswers to a couple of questions.
It is indicated that the known rehabilitation needs in my State of Kansas are approximately $19 million and then the division between technical assistance and financial assistance, it is slightly more than $4 million in technical assistance and almost $15 million in general financial assistance.
Is that the correct breakdown? How do you analyze whether technical assistance is more needed? I want to followup the question by the chairman about if you had $100 million, how would you spend it. My initial bite at that question is how do you decide whether technical assistance is more beneficial versus direct financial assistance.
Mr. SELLS. Well, I am not sure you can necessarily frame the question in that term because the two actually have to go together. It depends on the individual projects in great degree.
The type of project that is very heavily into concrete and steel are very heavy engineering. Those are very expensive tasks to perform, time-consuming tasks to perform, and the amount of technical assistance, the engineering needs would come under that technical assistance umbrella and the $4 million you would indicate.
Other technical assistance would be the potential of working with individual landowners upstream or up in the watershed to install various cost share practices.
Mr. MORAN. That is analyzed and determined on a project by project basis.
Mr. SELLS. It would be, yes, sir.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MORAN. Then in response to your answer to the chairman's question about how to divide up this money, is thereI liked Mr. Wilson's answer in the sense that we ought to be putting additional money into these projects. I don't disagree with that and there are many needs currently there, but I am always interested in the thought that we are going to continue to build new projects at a time when we are not maintaining what we have.
This is somewhat of a theme with me throughout what Government does at many levels, at the State or Federal level, we are often looking for new things to spend money on and yet we don't take care of the infrastructure that we currently have.
Is there any way to analyze if you had that $100 million where the priority ought to be? Is there a point system by which you would determine the benefits that accrue from a new project as compared to the benefits that accrue from restoring or repairing and maintaining a current project so that you actually can compare apples with apples in making a determination how to prioritize USDA taxpayer dollars?
Mr. SELLS. I am not sure we are into the rehabilitation issue to the point yet that we would want to start trying to weigh off the benefits of one over the other. Theoretically, yes, you could do something similar to that.
I did want to speak to your issue of starting or building new projects while not maintaining the ones we have. I would disagree with that characterization because the maintenance and operations agreements that we have on the overriding majority of our Small Watershed Projects out there are being maintained, and the issue is beyond the operations and maintenance activities, so those projects that are being put in out there, be they new or the ones that have been put in 15, 20 years ago, 50 years ago even with some of them, are being maintained in a good fashion.
Mr. MORAN. Is that a choice by me of the words? I mean should I have used the word ''rehabilitation'' instead of ''maintaining'' does that change your analysis?
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SELLS. Well, the issue I think you are getting to is which is the higher priority with a limited amount of dollars, and I think that is an excellent discussion to have.
I could not add to what Billy added in his original response to the question on what the needs are.
Even with the $1.5 billion backlog, there is a lot of good work that occurs out there when sponsors come together and work with us just to develop a new project, irrespective of getting immediate funding or waiting 10 years.
It helps the community to come together to understand its needs and a lot of times they seek other methods when we are not able to come through in a reasonable length of time with the Small Watershed Program itself and its funding.
Mr. MORAN. Is it any more true to think that the new project would not be funded without Federal dollars as it would be to say that the rehabilitation will not occur without Federal dollars? Is this rehabilitation going to occur regardless of additional dollars available for rehabilitation, any more so than a new project would be funded without Federal dollars?
Mr. SELLS. My guess would be the rehabilitation is most likely not to occur without Federal dollars.
Mr. MORAN. Mr. Wilson. I have just a few seconds.
Mr. WILSON. It would probably only occur on a case-by-case basis when there is a disaster or a failure, loss of life and property, and then a Federal declaration could be imposed and money could be provided through FEMA or EWP or something like that.
Mr. MORAN. Thank you for that suggestion. My guess is that the resources are less available in rural agricultural America today than they were 30 years ago when we were trying to address some conservation and watershed needs. Things have not improved financially. Tax base, the difficulties I think probably have increased.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you.
Mr. Lucas, did you have a follow-up?
Mr. LUCAS. Yes, ever so briefly, Mr. Chairman.
Thinking of Mr. Minge, the ranking member's comments, and his points are all very legitimate and very well taken, and I appreciated Mr. Wilson's observations about the local authority on the silting question already. In the bill it requires that these structures meet standards set by the Secretary, so I think we have some ability to control that.
The question of the public good, the core and the smaller dams, from my working experience of these structures back home, they tend to be structures that only hold water for a very limited period of time. If anything, in a practical sense, they are more of a nuisance to the local landowner than not, just to be practical and upfront and honest about it, and the protection they do provide, in sum, helps the whole country.
The question about earmarks, having spent, as of next month, 5 years in this distinguished body on this committee with you and the Chairman, having served in the State Legislature of Oklahoma for 5 1/2 years before that, and never having been an appropriator ever in my political life, it is a frustration we all go through, and I do not know how to address that.
If you remember, after the change in 1995, when there were all kinds of great discussions in this body about how we do certain things and why we do certain things, that was one of the debates, as I remember. Should we all be on the Appropriation Committee? Should the Appropriation Committees be abolished and each authorizer also address the same issues? And for any appropriator listening, I love you dearly, you are great human beings, by the way, for the record, but that is going to be an ongoing debate forever.
I just want to get this legislation authorized, to put in place the ability to do what needs to be done and then we will have to work together to get the attention of those appropriators. I acknowledge that this is a two-stage process we work under. I would just like it taken for note that I have come from authorization first, following the proper procedure, to work my way through this.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And one last comment, Mr. Chairman, and, of course, thank you for this hearing. But conservation is more than just dirt and valves and mother nature bring precipitation down. It is a lot of good folks out there, a lot of people who, of their own time, who are not directly economically benefiting from this, who serve on these boards and these commissions, the activists out there like Mr. Wilson, who make this possible because they care about the soil. They care about their neighbors. They care about the future of this country. And sometimes we get a little wrapped up and we forget that these are critically important people.
And I would take note, I consider this to be sort of a political, a legislative legacy for me. My predecessors in Oklahoma, and in western Oklahoma, having worked so diligently in the thirties and forties, along with my colleagues from across the country at that time, to make this effort possible, that I have a personal obligation to follow through. And it is ironic that one of my most active local conservationists back home, who spent his virtually entire adult life working on this, is being put to rest about the time we are having this hearing, back home in Roger Mills County. That is just dear old Frank Tibble. That is just an irony beyond ironies.
But we have an obligation and I think we will persevere, and I appreciate the ranking member and I appreciate the Chairman. I look forward to that markup, sir.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you. And we appreciate that editorial comment, particularly as the introducer of this bill. Thank you.
Mr. Wilson, we thank you for coming up and protecting Mr. Lucas today. I am sure he appreciates it, I do.
Mr. WILSON. I thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have enjoyed it.
Mr. BARRETT. I hope you come back.
Mr. WILSON. I will.
Mr. BARRETT. Mr. Sells, we appreciate your expertise as a member of the USDA, and I am sure we will be seeing you again soon.
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SELLS. Thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, again. You are excellent witnesses. Thanks to the subcommittee.
The Chair would seek unanimous consent to allow the record of today's hearing to remain open for 10 days to receive additional material and supplementary written responses from witnesses to any question posed by a member of this panel. Without objection, it is so ordered.
The Chair would also like to state for the record that the issues discussed before the subcommittee today will be the subject matter of a business meeting in the near future.
With that, this hearing is now adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 12:20 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Material submitted for inclusion in the record follows:]
Statement of Danny D. Sells
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee:
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the subcommittee to discuss watershed activities of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), specifically the Small Watershed Program authorized by P.L. 83566 and P.L. 78534. The Small Watershed Program serves thousands of communities across the country, improving the natural resource base, preventing floods, and increasing economic development. We at NRCS are proud of what the watershed program has accomplished over the past five decades. In my remarks today, I would like to underscore the importance of the program, and our ongoing work in comprehensive natural resource conservation on a watershed basis.
The NRCS watershed protection and flood prevention program represents the first and only national effort that helps local organizations plan and install watershed based projects on private lands. Through the program, NRCS provides technical expertise, watershed planning, and financial assistance for local units of government. It provides a process to solve local natural resource problems and avoid unnecessary regulation; empowers local decision-makers; builds partnerships; and encourages locals and States to fund and own these facilities.
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Small Watershed Program embodies the principles of locally-led conservation. Local governments and other sponsors initiate projects with the help of NRCS and local conservation districts. Local steering committees develop plans for the projects and help establish objectives and priorities. Also, local sponsors secure necessary land rights, secure Federal, state and local permits, pay a share of construction costs, and assume responsibility for maintenance. NRCS, in addition to providing financial assistance, serves as a technical advisor, bringing science and technology, and knowledge about the resource base and ecosystem of the watershed.
One such project, before the Committee for authorization is the Bexar, Medina, Atacosa (BMA) Counties Water Conservation Plan from Texas. The water conservation measures planned in this project will save over 33,000 acre-feet of surface water each year which will help protect the Edwards Aquifer, the sole source of water for more than 1.3 million people. The aquifer also provides habitat to eight aquifer-dependent aquatic threatened or endangered species. The project conserves water through reducing irrigation losses and improving water distribution facilities. The total cost of the project is $48 million; $22 million local, and $26 million Federal. Upon completion of the project, the average benefits will exceed $4.2 million, annually.
We estimate that the Small Watershed Program yields annual benefits of $800 million, but it would be impossible to capture fully what these watershed projects mean to communities across the nation. The dams and other structures protect towns, factories, schools and housing. Farms depend upon them for irrigation; the recreation they provide enhances local economies; and they enhance the quality of life for local residents. Communities have responded enthusiastically to the program; as a result, we have a backlog of over $1.5 billion in requests for financial and technical assistance.
In 1996, NRCS initiated a major effort to review the watershed program to develop a strategy for the future. In April 1998, we released a ''Strategy for the 21st Century'' report. Some of the actions recommended were:
Page 71 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Prioritize implementation, based upon net environmental, social, and economic benefits.
Strengthen technical capacity of NRCS and other program participants through increased coordination, planning, and training.
Leverage financial resources.
NRCS is now considering ways to facilitate these actions and improve the Small Watershed Program.
Fiscal year 1998 funding for P.L. 78534 and P.L. 83566 was $101,036,000; the fiscal year 1999 funding level is $99,443,000; and the fiscal year 2000 request is $83,423,000. Under the proposed funding levels, most states will receive funds for scheduled phases of their top priority projects. However, only approximately 6070 construction/installation elements under the Small Watershed Program, will be funded. One example of a project that will be funded in fiscal year 2000 is the Gering Valley Watershed Project in Scottsbluff County, Nebraska sponsored by the North Platte Natural Resources District. The completion of this project will provide flood protection to the communities of Gering and Scottsbluff, but NRCS needs $1,030,000 to complete this project.
The funding request for fiscal year 2000 also includes dedicating $1 million to educate the public, including project sponsors about the condition of the aging infrastructure installed under our watershed programs.
Since 1948, NRCS and local sponsors have built over 10,400 small watershed dams. Many of these structures are now reaching the end of their design life and, unless rehabilitated, may pose significant threats to human health, safety, and to the environment. The deterioration of these structures threatens to affect adversely the estimated $8.5 billion infrastructure of flood control, rural water supplies, conservation of natural resources and economic support established through these projects.
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, many highways and bridges are designed based on present downstream flow rates associated with these projects. That is to say, the integrity and viability of much of the Nation's transportation infrastructure depends upon the Small Watershed Projects. The human toll and economic effect from a failure could be devastating.
In a survey just completed by NRCS, the agency identified over 2200 dams that need immediate rehabilitation, at an estimated cost of $543 million based upon our preliminary surveys. The need could be much greater as the number of structures reaching their design life increases dramatically in the coming two decades. Whereas nearly 50 dams will reach their design life in 2001, over 600 dams will reach their design life in the year 2013, alone. Because these structures are owned by local communities,
NRCS is not legally responsible for their restoration; however, NRCS feels it is imperative that we inform communities now about the safety and stability of the structures, and the potential consequences of failures.
''The Small Watershed Program Strategy for the 21st Century'' report also recommended dealing with the issue of the aging watershed infrastructure by:
Supporting state funding initiatives to meet state dam safety requirements and increasing maintenance needs and
Supporting comprehensive planning in completed watersheds to address public health and safety needs as well as to enhance other resources not addressed in the original projects.
Meeting the remedial needs of aging watersheds will be a significant task, as circumstances surrounding many of these projects have changed in recent decades. The population of many communities has grown, land-use has changed, and environmental laws have been enacted and changed. However, continued deterioration of the projects constructed will have a major negative effect on economic and living conditions in rural
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC America. Without action to sustain the systems by local sponsors, the magnitude of the problem will increase as the infrastructure continues to age.
I would like to take this opportunity to point out that none of the work we have accomplished, nor the challenges we face can be met without the expertise, hard work and dedication of the NRCS field delivery system, including conservation districts, Resource Conservation and Development councils and state agency partners. Aside from work associated with the Small Watershed Program, NRCS provides assistance through its basic service to private landowners that directly relate to and benefit watersheds.
Through the watershed surveys and planning program, NRCS works with local sponsoring organizations to develop plans on watersheds dealing with water quality, flooding, water and land management, and sedimentation problems. These plans then form the basis for installing needed works of improvement. The agency also works cooperatively with State and local governments to develop river basin surveys and floodplain management studies to help identify water and related land resource problems and evaluate sound solutions. For fiscal year 2000, we have asked Congress to appropriate for watershed surveys and planning $11.7 million, an increase of $1.3 million over the fiscal year 1999 appropriated level.
We have had many significant accomplishments in the Small Watershed Program over the past 5 decades and many parts of America are better off as a result. But there is still much more to do. We will continue to inform communities about the status and structural integrity of the existing projects. We will continue to work with local communities to recommend the best-planned watershed projects that our science and technology can develop and will continue to prioritize and evaluate our activities so that the financial and technical resources available can be placed where they are needed most.
I thank the subcommittee and would be happy to take any questions that you might have.
Page 74 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Offset folios 12-14 Insert Here
Testimony of Johnny W. Ward, III
Mr. Chairman, Members, thank you for the opportunity to address you this morning. My name is Johnny Ward, I have the pleasure and honor this morning of testifying in support of the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Control and Improvement District No. 1's (BMA's) Water Conservation Plan for works of improvement, including enhanced water efficiency and water conservation, to the District's 500-plus-mile irrigation canal system pursuant to Public Law No. 83566.
I have lived and worked in the BMA District on and off since 1939. There have been four generations of my family that have lived in the BMA Water District. Three generations of my family have served on the BMA Board, and two generations worked as employees of the District,
I was born into the BMA District and grew up drinking water from the BMA canals. As a boy I rode the BMA canal ditches and worked from time-to-time as a laborer, helping my Dad who was operating a bulldozer maintaining the ditches. Those experiences helped me to learn about the BMA from its roots, and develop my life long relationship with and love for the BMA District. For me, the BMA has always meant home and heritage.
For those reasons it was a real privilege for me, a third generation BMA Landowner, to be elected to the Board of Directors in May, 1992. When I joined the BMA Board, it was a very exciting time. I just ended my 30-year career with the Texas Department of Public Safety and looked forward to focusing my energy on projects for BMA. After the election, I was honored by being elected as the Board 's President. Later in 1993, I was again honored by being selected to fill the role of interim General Manager for the District and direct this water conservation effort.
Landowners in the BMA District recognize the essential need for a viable agricultural economy both at the national and local levels. While urbanization has encroached upon BMA, other external forces have enhanced the need for a dependable water supply system capable of meeting agricultural irrigation needs within the District and areas adjacent to it. In recent years, there has been revitalization in agricultural activity outside of BMA in western Bexar and throughout Medina Counties. Much of the agricultural activity in our region obtains its irrigational water supply from the federally protected Edwards Aquifer.
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Edwards Aquifer also serves as the primary source of municipal water supplies for almost 2 million Texans in more than eight counties in the central Texas region, including the City of San Antonio in Bexar County. The growing demands for municipal water within our region has created a strain on the Edwards Aquifer. That sole source reliance upon the Aquifer threatens not only its continued availability as a dependable source of life giving water within the region, but it impairs the habitat of multiple endangered species that live in, or downstream of, springs supplied by waters from the Aquifer in New Braunfels in San Marcos, TX.
Federal and state officials have imposed pumping limitations upon the Edwards Aquifer because of the growing demand which threaten the continued availability of the Aquifer to meet irrigation demands in Bexar and Medina Counties. As a result, agricultural interest in the availability of irrigation water from the BMA reservoirs and canal system has increased. We believe that implementation of our project Plan can help meet those growing agricultural demands.
The existing BMA Canal System was built shortly after the turn of the century by a private real estate development company known as the Medina Irrigation Company (Mica). Primarily conceived for the development of a series of reservoirs and canals to distribute irrigation water to 150,000 acres in the Medina Valley, the project collapsed into bankruptcy after Mica's founder and principal manager died in the sinking of the S.S. Lusitania.
In 1925, ownership of those portions of the original project that had been constructed, including the Medina and Diversion Lakes Reservoir System and approximately 500 miles of canal system, were acquired by the newly formed BMA District. Of the originally planned development the new BMA District was capable of supplying the irrigation needs of approximately 35,000 acres of agricultural lands in the Medina Valley.
As originally designed and constructed, the BMA canal system was rather unique. Entirely ''gravity flow,'' the system has no pumps or mechanical lift stations to deliver water to farmers. Time, however, has taken its toll upon the system. Over the years, failure of original portions of the system, including siphons and elevated aqueducts, have resulted in modifications that have reduced the system's efficiencies. Age, too, has begun to aggravate the reduced system efficiency due to deterioration on and around canal banks.
Page 76 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The BMA canal system has the opportunity, through the refurbishing and development of enhanced conservation facilities and techniques contemplated in our Plan, to meet the challenges of the future to supply the demands for agricultural irrigation water. Specifically, BMA presently has a water right that authorizes the storage of some 237,000 acre feet of water in Medina Lake. The same water right authorizes BMA to use a total of 66,000 acre feet of water per year of which approximately 46,000 acre-feet is dedicated to irrigation use.
As the BM. A irrigation canal system approaches its 90th birthday, conveyance losses in the main canal average almost 35 percent. On farm irrigation efficiencies have been measured on average at 55 percent. Additionally, sloughing of uphill slopes into delivery canals are requiring constant maintenance by the district. Flood water breaches in the canals have involved costly repairs in result of any interruption and beneficiary of water delivery and increase water losses.
BMA's Plan project contemplates the correction of these deficiencies. Additionally, the Plan anticipates enhanced conservation through the use of technological advances, as well as an aggressive on-farm conservation effort. Through BMA 's proposed Plan, the District anticipates being able to continue to serve more than 34,000 acres of agricultural lands within BMA 's current service area. Additionally, through enhanced efficiency and the results of water conservation, there will be water available for agricultural use outside of the District where the Edwards Aquifer provides the current irrigation needs. Anticipated annual water savings of almost 34,000 acre feet are projected by NRCS staff from the project.
The potential benefits to be achieved through BMA 's project have been recognized on a regional basis. BMA has received the enthusiastic support of both the Alamo and the Medina Valley Soil and Water Conservation Districts, as well as the Texas State Soil Water Conservation Board, which have joined with the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resource of Conservation Service as Project Co-Sponsors and Partners. Additionally, other governmental entities with significant water resource interests within the region, including the Bexar Metropolitan Water District, are fully supportive of BMA's efforts.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Enhanced irrigation delivery efficiency, reduced losses and the conservation of water will have an overall needed economic positive effect on the region. More importantly, from BMA Landowners prospective, the project will insure the availability of irrigation water for agricultural use well into the next century.
As evidenced by the attached Resolution adopted by my Board of Directors, my Board supports this Project in recognition of the benefits as both BMA and the region as a while. Accordingly, I would like to close by respectfully soliciting your enthusiastic support and approval for the Bexar-Medina-Atoscosa Counties Water Conservation Plan Project.
Thank you again for the opportunity to address you. I welcome your questions and inquiries of the District and its project.
Statement of Bill Wilson
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee:
Thank you for inviting me to appear before the Subcommittee for the purpose of providing testimony on the issues of watershed protection, flood prevention, aging watershed project dam infrastructure, and specifically H.R. 728, the Small Watershed Rehabilitation Amendments of 1999. I very much appreciate the invitation to offer comments on subjects I have spent a great deal of my life working for and supporting.
By way of introduction, and so that you know I have some expertise in these subjects, I submit the following information. In addition to being a farmer and a registered professional land surveyor, I am a long time elected director of my local soil and water conservation district (SWCD), and a past president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts. In Oklahoma, the SWCD's are the responsible sponsors for many of the small watershed projects. In addition I am a past chairman of the National Watershed Coalition (NWC) and still serve on the NWC's Steering Committee. The NWC represents watershed project sponsors on a national basis. My testimony however is mine as an individual, and I am not officially representing these organizations.
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Before getting into the reasons why H.R. 728 is so important to all Americans, let me take just a minute to review the origins of the Small Watershed Programs in the United States. Over 50 years ago our nation debated the relative merits of various flood prevention methods and programs, considering such things as centralized Federal control vs. local decision making and control, large downstream Federal dams vs. smaller upstream locallyowned flood control dams and other structures (which just might reduce the need for some of the larger downstream dams), and reinforcing the notion of trying to keep rainfall as close to where it falls as possible. The national debate resulted in the passage of legislation for small, rural watershed projects that are federally assisted, not entirely Federal. The costs of implementing these small upstream projects are shared between the partnersFederal, state and local governments. The authorities for these upstream watershed programs date from 1944 (PL 78534) through 1954 (PL 83566), and the legislation has been amended many times over the years as new national priorities surfaced. These are the most flexible, beneficial pieces of natural resource conservation legislation ever enacted anyplace in the world! Objectives that can be addressed include flood damage reduction, erosion and sediment control, watershed protection, water quality improvement, rural water supply, water conservation, fish and wildlife habitat improvement, recreation, irrigation water management, groundwater recharge. In addition, these small watershed projects consider and enhance environmental values. They are planned and implemented subject to the discipline of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Federal ''Principles and Guidelines'' for land and water projects. That is public scrutiny!
In the 50 or so years that we Americans have benefited from these upstream watershed programs, we have seen the construction of over 10,400 floodwater retarding and multiple purpose structures, about 5000 grade stabilization structures, and over 30 million acres of our nations most precious and productive farmland have had erosion and sediment control and other good management practices installed. These works have been installed in nearly 2,000 watershed projects comprising nearly 130 million acres throughout the country. These completed small watershed projects have provided over $2.20 in benefits for every $1 of cost. Wouldn't it be nice if all Federal programs could make that claim? The installed works represent a Federal investment of about $8.5 billion in today's dollars, with another estimated $6 billion contributed locally. This investment needs to be protected and if properly attended to, these works will continue to provide benefits for all of us far into the future.
Page 79 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Since your subcommittee is considering the issues of watershed protection and flood prevention, in addition to infrastructure condition, I need to mention that in my view, we are seriously neglecting these marvelous watershed conservation programs by not providing the Federal share of funds promised to carry planned projects out. In recent years we have seen the Federal share of project costs decreased from over $200 million annually, to about $101 million in the last two years. The President's budget for FY 2000 would further reduce the funding of these vital watershed projects to about $85 million. That does not demonstrate environmental concern. We have a documented annual need for about a $250 million Federal cost share in upstream watershed conservation projects. It should be remembered that local people contribute between 3040 percent of the total costs of these conservation projects. This very serious lack of the Federal funding share has resulted in an unfunded Federal commitment of nearly $1.5 billion in the U.S. In my State of Oklahoma, this unfunded Federal commitment is $148 million. The lack of this Federal share has had disastrous impacts on local sponsors. In many cases local sponsors, usually watershed districts, flood control districts, soil and water conservation district, etc., held easements on land necessary for construction, and when the Federal share of construction funds was not available, these easements have expired and been lost. That loss comes at quite a cost to local sponsors. In your subcommittee's look at the entire watershed protection and flood prevention situation, I hope you will address this Federal funding shortfall. I realize this is not a budget or appropriations hearing, but you can be influential in ensuring good watershed management.
Now let me focus on the issue of the condition of those dams and other structures we have placed on our landscape over the past 50 years. I mentioned that over 10,400 multiple purpose structures have been constructed in virtually state in the United States. In Oklahoma alone, we have nearly 2100 completed structures worth about $1.8 billion. Over 75 percent of these structures had a planned life of 50 years. The very first small watershed structure in the Nation to reach its 50 year life was Cloud Creek Site No. 1, constructed near Cordell, OK, and dedicated July 8, 1948. Last July we celebrated its 50-year anniversary. Over 6,000 of these structures are now over 30 years old. In the next 10 years, over 1,300 of these dams nationwide will have reached the end of their 50 year life expectancy.
Page 80 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition to age, many of the dams that were originally constructed in rural areas have been swallowed up by urban development. This creates yet another problem for local sponsors. The design criteria for a structure that is located in an unpopulated rural area is significantly less stringent that that required in a developed area. There is not the same risk of loss of life, or serious property damage should a rural structure fail. It is not unusual to find that a structure originally built in a rural area some years ago, for under $100,000, could cost millions to be upgraded to current dam safety criteria. In many cases Federal or state dam safety laws require these upgrades. Most of the local sponsors with responsibility for these structures simply do not have the funds necessary to make these improvements, and have little chance of getting the funds.
This is not a time for placing blame or ignoring a growing problem. This is a time for action. The benefits provided by these completed small watershed projects, the health and safety of our communities and citizens, as well as the infrastructure itself, is at risk. These completed dams have performed their duties well. So well in fact, that many Americans who enjoy the benefits don't even know the dams exist. Many drive by them every day, but they have been part of the landscape for so long that people think they have always been there. Congress, the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, and local sponsors have left a legacy written on the land. As you fly to and from your Congressional District, you can see many of these structures that dot the landscape.
Without attention, this legacy can become a serious and dangerous liability both locally and nationally. Many of the structural components in these structures are showing deterioration due solely to age. Sediment basins behind these structures are becoming filled, eliminating further sediment storage and also decreasing flood storage capacity. Homes and businesses have been built below structures that were originally designed to protect rural land. Fifty years ago when Congress and the USDA embarked on this Small Watershed Program, there was little understanding of what to do when the projects planned life occurred. Maybe that was too far in the future for us to imagine. Well, that time has arrived! Now, 50 years later, we are faced with a number of serious health, safety and infrastructure issues to solve.
Page 81 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In facing the reality of this situation, Congressman Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma has introduced H.R. 728 in the 106th Congress. This Small Watershed Rehabilitation Amendments Bill would amend the current small watershed laws to give USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) the authority and responsibility to assist local sponsors in addressing these problems. It was NRCS that assisted the sponsors with the original planning, design, contracting, construction inspection, and annual maintenance inspections. I commend Congressman Lucas for his foresight in offering this Bill. As I have heard the Congressman say, ''By spending pennies now we can save dollars in the future.'' To date there has not been a major failure of a structure constructed under these upstream watershed programs. It is my hope that with the Passage of H.R. 728 we will start to rehabilitate these older structures now before a disaster strikes. H.R. 728 offers local watershed project sponsors as well as Congress the opportunity to be pro-active in protecting this national investment in infrastructure, as well as the health and safety of the citizens and communities these projects protect. While local sponsors have worked very hard to be responsible partners, alone they do not have the technical or financial resources to solve major rehabilitation tasks. Local sponsors are carrying out their project operation and maintenance responsibilities admirably, but in most cases major structural upgrades, mandated by state or Federal law, are beyond them. I believe that Congress and the Federal Government, who played such a major role in assisting these local sponsors with the original project planning and implementation, still has a responsibility to assist sponsors in ensuring these projects perform as intended and designed. There is a national interest in helping maintain flood damage reduction, protection of life and property, and continuing to provide water resource benefits to our nation's citizens. We only have to examine the areas protected with small watershed projects during disasters such as the great Midwest floods in 1993, or in the recent severe flooding in Texas in late 1998. Where small watershed projects had been installed, flood damages were greatly reduced, and the requests for Federal disaster assistance were less. The authorities and funding authorized by H.R. 728 will rekindle the partnership which made the upstream small watershed program one of the most effective and efficient federallyassisted natural resource conservation programs in our country's history.
Page 82 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I am aware of a number of prestigious, responsible, professional and industry national organizations that have already indicated they support H.R. 728. Among them are the National Watershed Coalition (NWC), the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO), the Land Improvement Contractors of America (LICA), the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the International Erosion Control Association (IECA), the Portland Cement Association (PCA), and the American Portland Cement Alliance (APCA). In addition many state agencies such as our Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC), and Iowa's Emergency Management Division of the Iowa Department of Public Defense are supporting the Bill. Statewide watershed organizations such as the New Mexico Watershed Coalition, Iowa Watersheds, State Association of Kansas Watersheds, Texas Association of Watershed Sponsors, the Missouri Watershed Association, the Arkansas Watershed Coalition, and the Wisconsin PL566 Coalition have also expressed their support. This is an idea whose time has come.
In closing, let me ask that you assist in moving H.R. 728, the Small Watershed Rehabilitation Amendments of 1999, to the floor of the House for consideration and a vote for passage. Speaking as a citizen of a state that benefits tremendously from these completed small watershed projects, I know first hand how important they are environmentally and economically in rural America. The improvements constructed under these watershed authorities, much like our nation's bridges, roads, water treatment plants, buildings, and sewer facilities, are improvements upon which we all depend. If properly cared for, the dams and other watershed improvements and the benefits they provide can be extended far into the future. It is time we faced up to the situation and dealt with it. It is a little like the TV advertisement, which says ''pay me now or pay me later.'' The costs to us all will be far greater if we try and ''pay later.'' That could also result in human tragedy that was avoidable if we had just acted in time.
Thank you for allowing me this opportunity. I would be pleased to respond to any questions by the subcommittee.
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Statement of The Association of State Dam Safety Officials
The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) is pleased to submit this written testimony in support of H.R. 728 ''The Small Watershed Rehabilitation Amendment's of 1999''. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials strongly urges the Subcommittee to recognize the need for and the tremendous benefits of this bill and approve H.R. 728.
The Association of State Dam Safety officials is a national organization of more than 1,700 State, Federal and local dam safety officials and private sector individuals dedicated to improving dam safety through research, education and communications. Our goal is to save lives, prevent damage to property and maintain the benefits of dams by preventing dam failures. Several devastating dam failures occurring in the 1970's focused attention on the potential catastrophic results of dam failures. These dramatic failures demonstrate that dams should always be properly constructed, operated and maintained to continue to provide important benefits and prevent failures.
Dams are an important part of the nation's aging infrastructure. They provide flood control, water supply, irrigation, hydropower and water quality benefits. Of the 75,000 dams in the United States, 95 percent are regulated by the states. Approximately 10,400 of these dams are small watershed structures built under the United States Department of Agriculture programs authorized by Congress beginning in the 1940's (primarily the Flood Control Act of 1944, PL534 and the Watershed Protection and Flood Control Act of 1953, PL566). By the year 2020, over 85 percent of all dams in the United States will be over 50 years old, the typical useful life span.
The Urgent Need For Federal Action. The benefits from the 10,400 small watershed dams are enormous and include downstream flood protection, water quality, irrigation, water supply and recreation. Yet, the benefits and downstream lives and property are threatened. The small watershed dams are approaching the end of their useful lives as critical components deteriorate. The pools become completely filled with sediment, downstream development increases the potential hazards and significantly changes the design standards, and many dams do not meet state dam safety standards.
Page 84 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The small watershed dams were constructed with technical and financial assistance from the Federal Government through the Department of Agriculture. Local sponsors were then responsible for operation and maintenance of the structures. Now these dams are approaching the end of their useful lives, yet the resource need is still great. The flood control benefits, the irrigation needs, the water supply, the recreation and the conservation demands do not end. In fact, they are more necessary than ever as downstream development has dramatically increased the number of people, properties and infrastructure that are protected by the flood control functions of these dams. The Federal Government has a critical leadership role in assuring that these dams continue to provide critical safety and resource needs.
The Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service has estimated the cost of rehabilitating the small watershed dams at $542,000,000. While the average rehabilitation cost per dam is approximately $242,000, the local sponsors typically do not have sufficient financial resources to complete these necessary repairs to assure the safety and critical functions of these dams. The Federal Government must recognize the urgent need to provide assistance to maintain these dams. Congress should reinforce its earlier commitment to the goals of the Flood Control Acts of 1944 and 1953.
Extent of the Problem. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials views funding of dam safety repairs as a critical need. The Association has identified nearly 2,000 unsafe dams in this country and many of the owners do not have sufficient funding sources. The proposed funding authorized in H.R. 728 is an important first step in recognizing and resolving the enormous problem with deteriorating and aging dams. Many of these urgent repairs and modifications are needed because of the following: downstream development within the dam failure flood zone, replacement of critical dam components, inadequate spillway capacity due to significant watershed development and increased design criteria due to downstream development.
Many of the small watershed dams do not meet minimum state dam safety standards and many that are being counted on for flood protection can no longer provide flood protection due to excessive sedimentation and significant increases in runoff from development within the watershed. The dams suffer from cracked concrete spillways, failing spillways, inoperable lake drains and other problems that require major repairs that are beyond the capability of the local sponsors.
Page 85 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Cost of No Action. These small watershed dams have been a silent and beneficial part of the landscape; but failure to make the necessary upgrades, repairs and modifications will increase the likelihood of dam failures. Continued neglect of these structures may easily result in reduced flood control capacity causing increased downstream flooding. Failure of a dam providing water supply would result in a lack of drinking water or important irrigation water.
The floods in Georgia in 1993 and in the Midwest in 1994 are recent reminders of natural events that can cause enormous disasters, including dam failures. H.R. 728 recognizes the urgent necessity to repair these dams. The failure to act quickly will clearly result in continued deterioration and a greater number of unsafe dams until a dam failure disaster occurs. A recent failure of a 38-foot tall dam in New Hampshire in 1996, which caused $5.5 million in damage and one death, should be a constant reminder that dam failures happen and can have tragic consequences.
H.R. 728 seeks to fund critical repairs of the USDA-sponsored dams over a ten-year period. The proposed bill also provides for funds to conduct assessments of the rehabilitation needs of the small dams. Completion of the needed repairs will result in safer dams, as well as continued benefits. Failure to establish a mechanism to reinvest in these structures will greatly increase the chances of dam failures and loss of benefits, both having significant economic and human consequences. Costs resulting from flood damage and dam failure damage are high and unnecessarily tap the Federal Government through disaster relief funds or the National Flood Insurance Program.
Recommendation. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials strongly urges the subcommittee to recognize the need for and the tremendous benefits of this bill and approve H.R. 728. We look forward to working with the Subcommittee and staff in any way toward passage of H.R. 728.
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