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September 18, 2006 - ASCE Letter - ASCE's position on H.R. 2864, the Water Development Act of 2006

September 18, 2006

The Honorable James Inhofe
Chairman, Environment & Public Works Committee
United States Senate
410 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Inhofe:

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is writing to support passage of
key provisions in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2006 (H.R.
2864), relating to dam safety and levee safety. We also wish to offer our opinion
on the provisions in the House and Senate bills governing the requirements for the
peer review of engineering undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
(USACE) in water resources projects authorized by the Act. 

Reauthorization of National Dam Safety Program
We would like to recommend one key revision to the bill to improve the dam safety
program. ASCE supports a provision found in the House legislation (H.R. 4981)
Section 2 relating to the National Dam Inventory. The provision would amend
inventory to require the inclusion of information regarding actual conditions of the
dam, not just its location, description, age and owner. A similar inventory provision
was included in the Senate version of the National Dam Safety Act (S. 2735),
which was reported out by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
on July 10, 2006.

Creation of National Levee Safety Program
ASCE supports the provisions in subtitle C of the Senate-passed bill relating to the
creation of a national levee safety program. The Senate bill would create a strong,
accountable national program to ensure the safeguarding of life and property that
is protected by federal and state levees.

ASCE believes that any legislation relating to a national levee inventory should
make that inventory compulsory. The Corps needs to account for every federal,
state, local, and privately owned levee in the country. Without such an allinclusive
catalog, we run the risk of missing potentially life-threatening conditions
at levees that are not accounted for by the government. The National Inventory of
Dams, a data base of all dams in the United States maintained by the Corps,
includes state and local government dams and privately owned dams as well. The
levee system requires a correspondingly complete survey.

Additionally, ASCE supports the Senate provisions relating to the creation and
funding of a National Levee Safety Program because the Senate provisions better
define the program and funding levels which will lead to a more successful
program.

Independent Peer Review of Water Resource Projects
ASCE also hopes the conference will amend the provisions in the House version
of H.R. 2864 relating to the peer review of water resources projects. ASCE Policy
Statement 351 recommends that independent peer reviews be conducted on
every civil engineering project in which performance is critical to the public health,
safety and welfare; the reliability of performance under emergency conditions is
critical; innovative materials or techniques are used; for projects lacking
redundancy in the design; or for projects that have unique construction sequencing
or a short or overlapping design and construction schedule. ASCE believes that
peer reviews should never be implemented to prevent or delay civil works projects
designed to protect the public health, safety, and welfare.

In our opinion, neither the House nor Senate versions of H.R. 2864 would meet
our two key criteria – independence and timeliness – in line with ASCE policy.

• As passed by the House in July 2005, H.R. 2864 envisions a role for the
National Academy of Sciences in the conduct of peer reviews of water
resources projects. ASCE believes that the NAS process is not one that is
best suited to the execution of timely, technically sufficient project peer
reviews for the Corps of Engineers.

• The Senate version of H.R. 2864 passed in July 2006 proposes a peer
review process for the USACE that is time-consuming, cumbersome and
not based on sound engineering principles. ASCE does not support the
Senate language in part because it begins the peer review far too late in the
process and would significantly lengthen the time needed to complete a
review.

ASCE believes that the House language should be revised to establish an Office
of Peer Review within the Corps of Engineers to oversee independent peer
reviews to be conducted through boards of consultants composed of individuals
with expertise in engineering project design and construction, environmental
restoration, economics, and other disciplines necessary to ensure the integrity of
the peer reviews.

Independent peer reviews for water resources projects authorized by Congress
should begin no later than the point at which the reconnaissance stage of project
planning is completed.

ASCE strongly believes that any legislation mandating independent peer reviews
of civil works projects must establish realistic, achievable deadlines for completing
the reviews in order to ensure the integrity of the project schedule.

Thank you for your interest in our concerns. If ASCE can be of any further
assistance in this matter please do not hesitate to contact me at (202) 789-7842 or
Michael Charles at (202) 789-7844.

Sincerely yours,

Brian T. Pallasch
Director of Government Relations