Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Subcommittee Chairman Frank Lucas Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee: Small Watershed Infrastructure: Continuing the Mission, Building upon Success

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Washington, June 13, 2017 | comments
Remarks as prepared for delivery: 

Good morning and welcome to today's hearing.

Nearly 70 years ago, my predecessors exhibited exceptional foresight through their investment in watershed infrastructure projects. The lasting benefits of those investments through the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program—also commonly known as P.L. 566—have allowed NRCS to partner with local communities to provide technical and financial assistance to build structures necessary to protect communities, allowing them to thrive.

Since 1948, nearly 12,000 small flood prevention dams have served local communities by providing both economic and conservation benefits. It is unsettling to imagine the destruction of property that would have taken place if these investments had not been made.

While we celebrate the success of these programs, we cannot overlook that this strategic infrastructure is aging and requires upkeep. By the end of 2017, nearly 5,500 structures will have reached the end of their intended life-span. Maintaining and updating these structures is often unaffordable for the communities that have benefited from the P.L. 566 program.  

In 2000, understanding the urgency of this issue, I introduced legislation to rehabilitate many of our watershed projects through the Small Watershed Rehabilitation Act. At the time, my message was simple—if we take no action to rehabilitate, we will be left with the cost of removing these structures or face constant threats to life and property as these dams continue to age. And we would definitely watch our $8.5 billion investment in this successful partnership wash away. Those concerns are as important today as they were 17 years ago.

I am confident that a modest investment now will pay off greatly over the next 70 years across rural America.

Both watershed construction and rehabilitation are necessary and important to maintaining and expanding our rural infrastructure, which is why I made these programs a priority, helping secure numerous hard-fought gains over the past several years. For example, in the 2014 Farm Bill we created partnership opportunities to target and leverage federal conservation funds through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

Additionally, Congress agreed to $250 million in mandatory funding for small watershed rehabilitation to address the program backlog. And finally, I was pleased the FY 2017 appropriations language included funding for the P.L. 566 program.

While these represent important steps to working through the current backlog of the P.L. 566 program, more work must be done. This rural infrastructure may be largely out of sight, but it is of critical importance to those communities impacted.

I look forward to hearing testimony today about the success of these programs, and with that, I yield to the Ranking Member for any opening remarks she would like to make. 

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