Crucial Coastal Bill Gains Momentum in Congress

The SHORRE Act will make coastal communities and birds more resilient to climate change.

In February, a bipartisan group of Congress members introduced the Shoreline Health and Oversight, Restoration, Resiliency, and Enhancement Act (SHORRE Act), which would restore our coasts and rivers, making the communities and birds that depend on these areas more resilient to climate change. Audubon applauds Senators Carper (D-DE) and Cassidy (R-LA) and Representatives Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Graves (R-LA) for prioritizing these vulnerable areas that are on the front lines of sea-level rise, hurricanes, and other forms of extreme weather.

Now, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has passed draft Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) legislation, and we are thrilled to see that much of the SHORRE Act is included in this bill. Soon, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will introduce its companion version of WRDA, and we hope that it includes these important SHORRE Act provisions as well. Here's a look at the provisions of the SHORRE Act that are included in the draft WRDA bill.

The SHORRE Act elevates coastal restoration in the face of climate change as the primary mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. To achieve this, the Corps will complete feasibility studies for water resource projects in coastal and riverine areas with alternatives considering climate change and how it may impact those projects.

The SHORRE Act incentivizes natural infrastructure like wetlands and natural floodplains over traditional grey infrastructure like dams and levees, to better address flood and storm management on our coasts and rivers. Nature-based solutions are not only a more sustainable way to protect communities and ecosystems from floods and storms, they can also be more cost-efficient. For every dollar invested, $7 or more in flood-reduction benefits are returned. Nature-based solutions like wetlands also provide crucial habitat for birds like Saltmarsh Sparrows, which scientists say are creeping dangerously close to extinction due to their nests flooding as sea levels rise.

The draft legislation ensures the Corps will continue to abide by critical federal laws like the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) while providing financial relief to beach communities for beach renourishment projects. The CBRA protects pristine coastal land, wetlands, barrier islands, and inlets across the East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands. Some of the nation’s most valuable coastal habitat is protected by CBRA, which has saved taxpayers billions of dollars in avoided storm impact and recovery costs. The CBRA system supports multibillion-dollar fisheries and provides critical and increasingly rare habitat for birds. These priceless, undeveloped coastal areas in the CBRA system also help protect nearby communities from storms and erosion, acting as a nature’s speed bump to break down wind and waves. The SHORRE Act maintains the protections of the CBRA system while directing the Corps to pick up the tab for the cost of dredging sand for beach renourishment projects from areas that may not be the cheapest sources. This is a win-win solution for protecting important coastal habitat for birds and communities, while shielding beach towns from additional costs to access sand from alternative areas.

This bill would authorize better federal cost-share agreements for historically disadvantaged and disproportionately vulnerable communities, including Tribal communities. These communities are directly impacted by climate change, especially those who live on the coast and on river floodplains, and these provisions will ensure they have access to federal programs that will help them fight climate change in their communities.

Lastly, Audubon is excited to see better federal cost-share agreements for critical water infrastructure studies and projects in the SHORRE Act and now WRDA, including:

  • The Lower Mississippi Comprehensive Management study, authorized in WRDA 2020, will take a fresh look at the management of the Lower Mississippi River, which has seen historic flooding in recent years, devastating delicate ecosystems such as the Lake Pontchartrain Basin and Mississippi Sound. The study covers multiple states that would need to split the cost with the Army Corps – a difficult task to efficiently accomplish. The SHORRE Act clarifies that this study should be completed at full federal expense, and the Senate WRDA draft increases the federal cost-share for the study. Audubon will continue to advocate for the federal partner to cover the full cost in the House WRDA companion, in order to swiftly advance the study that will significantly benefit not only the ecosystems, communities, and birds along lower Mississippi River states, but the nation as a whole.
  • The Brandon Road Lock and Dam project will protect the Great Lakes watershed from invasive carp. Voracious eaters native to Asia, these fish lack natural predators in the U.S., allowing them to outcompete native fish and destroy wetlands in the Great Lakes, causing lasting negative impacts on birds like Black Terns and on surrounding communities and habitats. The SHORRE Act included this critical project at full federal expense, which Audubon supports, and the Senate WRDA draft includes it at an increased cost-share.
  • The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet Ecosystem Restoration Plan will restore critical habitat and protect vulnerable communities from hurricane storm surge and flooding events in Louisiana. This human-made navigation channel destroyed tens of thousands of acres of protective wetlands in the Greater New Orleans area and contributed to catastrophic storm damage during Hurricane Katrina. Congress directed the Corps to close the channel and conduct a study and subsequent restoration plan to restore habitat and protect communities nearby from storm surge and flooding. Due to a cost-share dispute, the project has been stalled for over a decade. The SHORRE Act clarifies that this should be fully federally funded, and the Senate WRDA draft increases the federal cost-share. Audubon continues to push for the originally intended full federal funding for a project desperately needed to restore and protect Southeastern Louisiana communities and habitat.

Audubon thanks the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for its swift work and inclusion of these essential studies, projects, and policies from the SHORRE Act in its draft WRDA bill. We will continue to advocate for projects that benefit birds and communities in the upcoming House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s companion bill, where we also hope to see the majority of the SHORRE Act included.