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Barragán Leads Call for Natural Infrastructure Projects, Access in Underserved Communities

By May 1, 2020 No Comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                      

May 1, 2020

 

Washington, D.C. —Today, Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán led an effort to bring sustainability and equity into the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). Her approach would level the playing field for green, natural infrastructure solutions and increase the affordability and accessibility of these types of projects to underserved communities.

 

Barragán and 20 of her colleagues sent a letter requesting the reforms to the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is accepting member submissions for WRDA studies and projects. The billions of dollars of Army Corps of Engineers projects authorized in WRDA are critical for flood protection and ecosystem restoration in communities.

 

“The future of America’s flood control infrastructure must be resilient, sustainable, and equitable. It should include natural solutions, like the restoration of wetlands and urban forests. Congress needs to modernize how natural infrastructure solutions are funded so they can compete fairly with traditional infrastructure projects on the merits of flood protection,” said Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán. “These natural solutions can protect communities from flooding while providing the valuable benefits of cleaner water and ecosystem restoration. We should level the playing field so that natural infrastructure options are accessible to all communities in need of flood control.”

 

Removing Barriers to Natural Infrastructure

Despite the many important benefits provided by natural infrastructure, it still remains an underused tool for reducing flood risks.

The Army Corps of Engineers treats natural infrastructure and nonstructural measures differently when assessing the non-Federal cost share, making natural infrastructure more expensive for communities on the ground. The non-federal cost share for nonstructural flood projects is 35% of total project costs. In contrast, the non-federal cost share for natural infrastructure projects can be as high as 50% of total project costs, requiring the non-federal sponsor to pay 35% of project costs plus the cost of land, easements, rights of way, and disposal sites, up to a combined maximum of 50% of project costs.

The letter lays out specific policy language to clarify that natural infrastructure projects are subject to the same cost share requirements as nonstructural projects.

 

Facilitate Flood Risk Management Planning for Underserved Communities

Studies show that flooding disproportionately impacts low-income communities, indigenous populations and people of color. Currently, federal sponsors pay half of the cost of feasibility studies for flood and hurricane and storm damage reduction projects, leaving communities on the ground to fill the gap. The high cost to conduct these studies can be a significant barrier to considering natural infrastructure options for the communities that may be the least able to pay, and likely the most impacted by flooding and hurricanes,

The letter outlines targeted criteria for waiving the non-federal cost share for flood and storm damage reduction feasibility studies in underserved communities, under the requirement such studies fully evaluate natural infrastructure solutions. Natural infrastructure can provide sustainable, environmentally protective, and less expensive solutions to flood and water management, while simultaneously improving public health and well-being. These benefits should be particularly available to historically undeserved communities.

The letter to the committee was signed by: Representatives Nanette Diaz Barragán (Calif.), Yvette D. Clarke (N.Y.), Sharice Davids (Kan.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Jimmy Gomez (Calif.), Vicente Gonzalez (Texas), Deb Haaland (N.M), Alcee L. Hastings (Fla.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Jared Huffman (Calif.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Alan Lowenthal (Calif.), Betty McCollum (Minn.), Gwen Moore (Wis.), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (Fla.), Cedric Richmond (La.), Linda T. Sanchez (Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Darren Soto (Fla.), Filemon Vela (Texas)

 

Text of today’s letter is below. A PDF of the letter is available here.

 

The letter is supported by the National Wildlife Federation and the National Audubon Society.

 

“Natural infrastructure makes communities safer and more resilient by absorbing floodwaters, buffering storm surges, and protecting homes from the effects of climate-fueled storms,” said Jessie Ritter, Director of Water Resources and Coastal Policy at the National Wildlife Federation. “These same natural defenses also support wildlife and our outdoor recreation economy.  Natural infrastructure solutions should be a first-line tool for communities, and these proposals will help make that happen.”

 

“Lasting and cost-effective solutions to decrease the flooding risks communities across the United States face should be a top priority for Congress as it considers water infrastructure legislation,” said Julie Hill-Gabriel, vice president for water conservation at the National Audubon Society. “The next Water Resources Development Act must include direction to the Army Corps of Engineers to advance natural infrastructure projects that will make communities more resilient to flooding and other extreme weather, last longer than their environmentally-harmful alternatives, help recover bird and wildlife populations, and provide important economic stimulus to local economies.”

 

 

May 1, 2020

 

The Honorable Peter A. DeFazio

Chair

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Washington, DC 20515

 

The Honorable Sam Graves

Ranking Member

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Washington, DC 20515

 

The Honorable Grace F. Napolitano

Chair

Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment

Washington, DC 20515

 

The Honorable Bruce Westerman

Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment

Washington, DC 20515

 

Dear Chairman DeFazio, Ranking Member Graves, Subcommitee Chair Napolitano, and Ranking Subcommittee Member Westerman:

 

Thank you for all of your work to gather feedback and submissions requests from House members on project, study, and policy requests for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020.

 

As you work to finalize WRDA authorizations, we urge you to make two critical environmental reforms to remove arbitrary barriers to natural infrastructure, and to make it easier for low income and underserved communities to engage in effective flood risk management planning for their communities.

 

Natural infrastructure can be a highly effective, and cost-effective, tool for protecting communities and increasing the resilience of the nation’s water resources infrastructure.  It makes communities safer and more resilient by absorbing floodwaters and buffering storm surges, and provides an extra line of defense that improves the effectiveness and resilience of levees and other infrastructure.  Projects that restore natural infrastructure are also a significant creator of jobs that by necessity are local and cannot be exported.

 

Protecting and restoring natural infrastructure leads to healthy rivers, floodplains, wetlands, and shorelines and increases the many benefits those systems provide for public health and well-being.  The diverse environmental benefits provided by sustainable and cost-effective natural infrastructure can be particularly valuable for underserved communities that suffer from flooding in combination with environmental health challenges.

 

Removing Barriers to Natural infrastructure

Despite the many important benefits provided by natural infrastructure, it remains an underused tool for reducing flood risks.  We must ensure that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects and operations take full advantage of natural infrastructure and enhance rather than harm these vital natural systems.

 

Unfortunately, the Corps treats natural infrastructure and nonstructural measures differently when assessing the non-Federal cost share, with significant implications for communities. The non-federal cost share for nonstructural flood projects is 35% of total project costs, including the costs of all lands, easements, rights of way, and disposal sites. In contrast, the non-federal cost share for natural infrastructure projects can be as high as 50% of total project costs. This is because the Corps typically accounts for natural infrastructure as a structural project, which requires the non-federal sponsor to pay 35% of project costs plus the cost of land, easements, rights of way, and disposal sites, up to a combined maximum of 50% of project costs.

 

To address this disparity, Congress should clarify that natural infrastructure projects are subject to the same cost share requirements as nonstructural projects. This would be consistent with 33 U.S.C. § 701n(a)(4), which defines the term “nonstructural alternatives” for the purpose of the PL 84-99 program to include “efforts to restore or protect natural resources, including streams, rivers, floodplains, wetlands, or coasts, if those efforts will reduce flood risk.”

 

Facilitate Flood Risk Management Planning for Underserved Communities

Non-Federal sponsors pay 50% of the cost of feasibility studies for flood and hurricane and storm damage reduction projects. While this study cost-share provides an important safeguard for taxpayers, it can be a significant barrier to evaluating opportunities for addressing flooding that disproportionately impacts minority, low-income, and/or indigenous populations.

To assist undeserved communities, Congress should establish targeted criteria for waiving the non- federal cost share for flood and storm damage reduction feasibility studies and require that such studies fully evaluate natural infrastructure solutions. Natural infrastructure can provide sustainable, environmentally protective, and less expensive solutions for avoiding and reducing risks while also improving public health and well-being.

Recommended legislative language to achieve both of these proposed improvements is appended to this letter.

We appreciate your consideration of this request and urge you to ensure that natural infrastructure is a critical resilience strategy for our nation’s water resources infrastructure, and to increase access of flood risk management planning for underserved communities.

 

Sincerely,

/s/ Nanette Diaz

Member of Congress

 

/s/ Jared Huffman

Member of Congress

 

/s/ Alcee L. Hastings                                                  /s/ Pramila Jayapal

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

 

/s/ Yvette D. Clarke                                                    /s/ Brian Fitzpatrick

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

 

/s/ Alan Lowenthal                                                     /s/ Eleanor Holmes Norton

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

 

/s/ Cedric Richmond                                                   /s/ Filemon Vela

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

 

/s/ Jimmy Gomez                                                        /s/ Betty McCollum

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

 

/s/ Darren Soto                                                            /s/ Barbara Lee

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

 

/s/ Sharice Davids                                                       /s/ Deb Haaland

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

/s/ Vicente Gonzalez                                                   /s/ Linda T. Sanchez

Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

 

/s/ Jan Schakowsky

Member of Congress

 

 

Removing Barriers to Natural Infrastructure

Proposed Language: Amend 33 U.S.C. § 2213(b) by adding “and natural infrastructure” after “nonstructural” each time it appears in 33 U.S.C. § 2213(b), and by adding “and storm and hurricane damage reduction” after “flood control” each time it appears in 33 U.S.C. § 2213(b).

The revised text would read as follows:

(b) Nonstructural and natural infrastructure flood control and storm and hurricane damage reduction projects

(1) In general
The non-Federal share of the cost of nonstructural and natural infrastructure flood control and storm and hurricane damage reduction measures shall be 35 percent of the cost of such measures. The non-Federal interests for any such measures shall be required to provide all lands, easements, rights-of-way, dredged material disposal areas, and relocations necessary for the project, but shall not be required to contribute any amount in cash during construction of the project.

(2) Non-Federal contribution in excess of 35 percent

At any time during construction of a project, if the Secretary determines that the costs of land, easements, rights-of-way, dredged material disposal areas, and relocations for the project, in combination with other costs contributed by the non-Federal interests, will exceed 35 percent, any additional costs for the project (not to exceed 65 percent of the total costs of the project) shall be a Federal responsibility and shall be contributed during construction as part of the Federal share.

 

Facilitate Flood Risk Management Planning for Underserved Communities

 

Proposed Language: Amend 33 USC 2215 (Feasibility studies; planning, engineering, and design) by adding a new subsection (a)(1)(4) as follows:

(4) Community Protection

(A) Exemption.  Notwithstanding the study cost sharing requirements established by 2215(a)(1)(A), there shall be no non-Federal cost share requirement for flood or storm damage reduction feasibility studies that meet two of the following criteria as of the date the project study is authorized:

  1. (i)  The percentage of people living in poverty in the county or counties in which the project is located is above the percentage of people living in poverty in the state, based on U.S. Census Bureau Data;
  2. (ii)  The percentage of families whose incomes fall above the poverty threshold but below the average household income in the county or counties in which the project is located is above the percentage of the same for the state, based on U.S. Census Bureau Data;
  3. (iii)  The percentage of minority or indigenous peoples in the county or counties in which the project is located is above the average percentage in the state, based on U.S. Census Bureau Data; or
  4. (iv)  The project is addressing impacts that have a disproportionate impact on minority populations, low-income populations, and/or indigenous peoples.

(B) Study Requirements.  Feasibility studies carried out under this subsection shall: (i) prioritize the avoidance of damages and residual risk; and (ii) incorporate natural infrastructure, or a combination of natural infrastructure and nonstructural features, that avoid and/or reduce at least 50 percent of flood or storm damages in one or more of the alternatives included in the final array of alternatives evaluated. The benefits of natural infrastructure features and/or nonstructural measures that avoid damages and minimize residual risk shall be deemed to be at least equal to the cost of those measures.