U.S. congressional actions to conserve and develop water resources

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The U.S. federal government has historically taken a significant role in overseeing the nation's waterways. This responsibility has largely been fulfilled by the Army Corps of Engineers, who supports navigation needs by maintaining and improving the nation's waterways in 41 states. The Corps also maintains 300 commercial harbors, through which more than two billion tons of cargo pass each year. This page deals with efforts by the U.S. Congress to oversee and direct the federal government with regards to the nation's waterways.

The Water Resources Development Act was criticized by groups such as Taxpayers for Common Sense for including large numbers of earmarks. These groups argue that [more on the arguments against the act].


110th Congress

Water Resources Development Act of 2007


On April 19, 2007, the House considered a bill (H.R.1495), sponsored by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), to authorize the Secretary of the Army to construct various projects for improvements to rivers and harbors of the United States.[1]

Specifically, the bill would:

  • Conduct navigation and ecosystem improvements involving the Illinois Waterway system. The effort would span 854 miles from the Ohio River and down the Mississippi River to the St. Anthony Falls Lock in Minneapolis, Minn. About 327 miles of the Illinois Waterway would be improved. Mooring facilities would be installed at various locks and new locks would be authorized on the Mississippi and the Illinois Waterway. The overall cost would be $1.8 billion.[2]
  • Launch a task force comprising various federal Department Secretaries and State officials called the Coastal Louisiana Ecosystem Protection and Restoration Task Force. It would make recommendations and propose strategies for protection repair, restoration and maintenance of the Louisiana ecosystem.[3]
  • Direct funds to help restore the Florida Everglades. Specifically, Florida Everglade restoration would move slightly forward with a section of the bill that authorizes three projects related to the restoration. The Indian River Lagoon ecosystem restoration would move forward with $1.4 billion (the Federal cost is estimated at $682.5 million and the non-Federal, state costs around $682.5 million). The related Picayune Strand element of the Florida project is estimated at $187.7 million federal and the same from the State of Florida. The third, site 1 impoundment projects would divide $80 million between the state and federal governments. Credit to reimburse non-federal participants in the restoration project would be granted, but future claims would need to be based on a written agreement that the non-federal entity would do the work. A three mile section of the famed Tamiami Trail would be raised or replaced with bridges to allow better Everglade’s water flow.[4]

The bill passed, 394-25.


When the bill was introduced in the Senate, it was held up in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works because of the development of a substitute bill intended to fix several problems apparent in the original. One such problem was that the earmark disclosure table was printed in tiny type, and was reproduced as a single image, making a computerized search impossible. Committee sources said the printing snafu was unintentional, having more to do with the way the Government Printing Office reproduced the legislation than the way the committee intended it to be presented. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Senate bill would cost $31.5 billion, more than twice the estimate of the House bill that was estimated at around $13.2 billion. The substitute bill would be introduced to bring the cost down to around the same estimate as the House version, fix the printing problem, and to rearrange some of the earmarks of the original version.[5]

On May 9, the Senate invoked cloture on the $13.2 billion version of the bill (identical to the one passed by the House), 89-7.

The following week, the bill was amended. Specifically, the Senate agreed to spend more, at least $15 billion on Gulf coast projects that would ensure more protection for New Orleans and the surrounding area from category five hurricanes. Spending for the House version was "$6.7 billion over the 2008-2012 period and an additional $6.5 billion over the 10 years after 2012. The Senate version would spend about $5.5 billion over the 2008-2012 period and an additional $26 billion over the 10 years after 2012."[6]

The Senate version would also limit the number of projects the Army Corps of Engineers would work on, reducing it from 50 to 40.[7]

Criticisms and commendations

Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group committed to being an "independent watchdog for American taxpayers," commented that the bill was just a continuation of the political practices that led to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005. It stated, "In the starkest terms, Katrina showed us that the time is long passed to end the political spoils system that has driven water project investment for more than a century. We need a modern, accountable and prioritized system to develop and award projects. It’s a message that Congress has failed to grasp." While the bill provided funding for water projects around the country, it also contained "more than 800 parochial pork barrel projects for virtually every Congressional district in the nation." According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, instead of dispersing funds by need, the legislators distributed as much as they could to their own districts.[8]

Main article: Earmarks

Plans to override the bill

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bill, which authorizes funding for a variety of projects, including beach restoration, clean water and flood control programs, passed both chambers of Congress, was vetoed by President Bush, but Democratic leaders promised to quickly override this veto. “When we override this irresponsible veto, perhaps the president will finally recognize that Congress is an equal branch of government and reconsider his many other reckless veto threats,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Although spending watchdogs, like Taxpayers for Common Sense (TSA) applauded the president for vetoing the estimated $23 billion water projects bills, Howard Marlowe of Marlowe & Associates, which has several clients that have lobbied for WRDA, said, “Water resources are critical to the nation’s economy and international competitiveness. To say this is too expensive flies in the face of the fact that the administration has done nothing over the past seven years to build water resources infrastructure.”[9]

House voted to override Bush veto

The House voted to override a veto by President Bush for the first time, acting to save the $23.2 billion Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The vote was 361-54, well over the two-thirds majority needed to negate a presidential veto. Lawmakers from both parties representing those areas stressed that Bush was misguided in trying to kill the bill. "Without a Water Resources Development Act, which is seven years overdue, we are seeing our coastline disappear," said Rep. Charles Boustany(R-La). But the bill would merely authorize projects like coastal restoration and river navigation. They must now secure funding through the House and Senate appropriations committees, with no guarantees. [10]

Senate voted to override veto

Congress successfully overrode Bush’s veto for the first time on November 8, 2007 when the Senate agreed with the House in a vote of 79-14. For the first time Republicans sided with the Democratic majority in both chambers. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said "It took Congress six years to pass it and a misguided president one day to try to kill it. Fortunately, common sense prevailed." Democrats hoped that the successful override could crack the Republican unity that backed Bush’s previous vetoes.[11]

Articles and resources

See also


  1. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Environment and Resources," TheWeekInCongress, April 20, 2007.
  2. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Environment and Resources," TheWeekInCongress, April 20, 2007.
  3. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Environment and Resources," TheWeekInCongress, April 20, 2007.
  4. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Environment and Resources," TheWeekInCongress, April 20, 2007.
  5. Paul Singer, "Cost, Fine Print Slow WRDA Bill," Roll Call, May 7, 2007.
  6. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Environment and Resources," TheWeekInCongress, May 17, 2007.
  7. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Environment and Resources," TheWeekInCongress, May 17, 2007.
  8. Steve Ellis, "Water Pork Bill Floats Through Congress," Taxpayers for Common Sense, April 20, 2007.
  9. Jim Snyder, "Democrats promise quick vote on WRDA override," The Hill, November 2, 2007.
  10. Jim Abrams, "House Votes to Override Water Bill Veto," The Washington Post, November 7, 2007.
  11. Klaus Marre, "Congress overrides Bush veto for the first time", The Hill, November 8, 2007.

External resources

External articles