WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives today passed the Water Resources of Development Act of 2020 in a bipartisan vote. This legislation is critically important because it authorizes projects and programs led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study, design, and construct water transportation and infrastructure projects including the restoration and maintenance of wetlands and watersheds critically important to birds.
“It is heartening to see the House put aside party politics for such an important issue like our nation’s water infrastructure,” said Julie Hill-Gabriel, vice president for water conservation at the National Audubon Society. “This bill not only makes important investments in restoring major ecosystems like the Everglades, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Delta, but takes important steps to address the threat of climate change by recognizing the benefits of resilient natural infrastructure.”
The bill directs the Army Corps of Engineers to include natural infrastructure as a consideration in its work to prevent flooding and storm damage in the communities it serves.
“As we face more intense storms, extreme flooding, and extreme drought, natural infrastructure must become a central tool for building resilient habitat and communities,” added Hill-Gabriel.
In 2018, Audubon released a Natural Infrastructure Report: How Natural Infrastructure Can Shape a Resilient Coast for Birds and People. This report demonstrated how federal investment in natural infrastructure will help increase preparedness of coastal communities and economies, while benefitting fish and wildlife, which also often provide a critical foundation for coastal economies. Natural infrastructure alternatives can include nature-based systems such as restoring sand dunes, wetlands, oyster reefs and coastal forests in place of traditional human-built projects like seawalls, jetties, and levees.
In July of last year, Hill-Gabriel testified to the House U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment on the benefits of natural infrastructure.
“Not only do these natural systems benefit birds and other wildlife, compared to this kind of “grey” infrastructure, they have been shown to provide significant, long-term and cost-competitive benefits in reducing flooding. Natural infrastructure is a win-win for birds and people.” said Hill-Gabriel.
Audubon also supported measures in the bill that will extend more federal flood prevention help to low-income communities. These measures require the Army Corps of Engineers to examine how it can achieve more equity in its distribution of resources, waive community cost-sharing requirements for low-income communities, and sponsor new pilots to get much needed assessments of flooding and storm surge risk for economically disadvantaged communities, including rural communities and communities of color facing persistent poverty.
“Low-income communities and communities of color are often the most at-risk in floods and hurricanes, and these long-held policies like cost-sharing were keeping them from getting the help they need,” added Hill-Gabriel. “These new measures will help the United States begin to realize more equitable approaches to protecting all Americans from flooding and storm risks that will only increase with the effects of climate change.”
In May, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously passed their version of WRDA legislation, demonstrating bipartisan support for water infrastructure. “We look forward to working with leaders in both chambers to pass this important legislation this year,” said Hill-Gabriel.
You can read Audubon’s letter to U.S. House leaders outlining the specific measures we support here.
You can read Audubon’s letter to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee here.
Media Contact: Matt Smelser, firstname.lastname@example.org, 512.739.9635
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at www.audubon.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.