Southwest Washington Congressional Delegation Urge Federal Funding of Cowlitz River Sediment Management
Washington, February 18, 2021
Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler and U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell today urged the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the United States Department of the Army to include funding in the fiscal year 2022 budget for sediment monitoring activities for the Mount St. Helens Sediment Control account.
Yearly sediment monitoring work is necessary to ensure Cowlitz County communities are protected from severe flooding events resulting from the buildup of volcanic sediment from the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Despite the need for annual work, federal funding for the program has been inconsistent, forcing local communities to put up their own money for a federal responsibility.
In the letter, the lawmakers stress the importance of funding the sediment management plan in fiscal year 2022, which will provide security for communities who are at risk for dangerous and devastating floods.
“Neglecting to address the risk to impacted communities not only threatens them with the uncertainty of flooding but also the peace of mind that the monitoring can provide. We request that OMB and USACE honor congressional intent and provide the requisite funding in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget for the USACE to conduct the necessary sediment monitoring activities,” the lawmakers wrote.
The full text of the letter follows, and a PDF is available here.
Dear Acting Director Fairweather and Mr. Stewart,
We write to encourage you to include appropriate funding in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Fiscal Year 2022 budget request for sediment monitoring activities for the Mt. St. Helens Sediment Control account. Funding this critical action will ensure that the downriver communities will remain safe from a future flooding event.
As you are aware, the Long-Term Sediment Management Plan was developed following the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Congress authorized USACE to construct, operate and maintain a sediment retention structure and provide the associated downstream actions necessary to ensure flood risk reduction for the communities of Longview, Kelso, Castle Rock, and Lexington. Additionally, funding was authorized by Congress in the Mount St. Helens Construction Account for Mount St. Helens Sediment Control in 1985 to ensure the structure is maintained and sediment flows did not cause rivers downstream to reach dangerous levels.
Proper river management requires yearly monitoring to ensure that river water levels do not threaten the downstream communities. Unfortunately, federal funding for sediment monitoring has been inconsistent, creating uncertainty for local communities most at risk from the impacts of flooding.
We appreciate the USACE and Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) work last summer to reprogram unused federal funds to allow the USACE Portland District to conduct sediment monitoring work last year. It was especially important that the local communities did not need to make difficult decisions on pulling money from vital local services to pay for sediment monitoring.
However, we are disappointed that the Fiscal Year 2021 work plan did not provide money for the Portland District to conduct the work this year, yet again abdicating a federal responsibility and forcing the local communities to cobble together funds to pay for the work. To prevent the lack of funding from occurring again in the future, Congress inserted the following report language in the Fiscal Year 2021 Energy and Water Appropriations Joint Explanatory Statement, which indicates congressional intent that the USACE provide adequate funding in future budget requests for the sediment monitoring work:
The agreement notes that Mount St. Helens Sediment Monitoring activities have not been funded in the Corps work plan for the sixth consecutive year. Yearly monitoring is vital to ensure that the sediment retention structure can properly protect the communities in Cowlitz County, Washington. There is awareness that the lack of federal funding has led to local communities funding sediment monitoring and encourages the Corps to include appropriate funding in future budget submissions for this effort.
We sincerely hope you come to recognize the importance of this funding to our communities, the relatively minor expenditure it will take in the larger USACE budget compared to the extraordinary burden it represents to small rural communities, and the cost of failing to undertake this work. Neglecting to address the risk to impacted communities not only threatens them with the uncertainty of flooding but also the peace of mind that the monitoring can provide. We request that you honor congressional intent and provide the requisite funding in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget for the USACE to conduct the necessary sediment monitoring activities. We look forward to your prompt response.