Senate passes flood bill

Published 9:20 am Saturday, August 1, 2009

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Senate has joined the House of Representatives in support of a bill that would ultimately fund an Army Corps of Engineers study of the Chowan River Basin.

On Wednesday the Senate voted 85-9 to pass bill HR3183, also known as the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2010. Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb both voted in favor of the bill.

The Senate version of the bill, which totals $34 billion, provides $215,000 for the Corps to conduct a reconnaissance study of the Chowan River Basin, which in the last decade has experienced record flooding six times.

A similar, $33.3 billion version of the bill passed the House on July 17, but only allocated $100,000 toward the river basin study.

The bill now moves into conference between the House and Senate. Kimberly Hunter, the press secretary for Webb, said Friday that legislators will come to an agreement over how much to fund the basin study during the conference stage.

“They will reconcile those two numbers,” Hunter said. “(The final number) will likely be somewhere between those two numbers.”

Asked if he thought President Barack Obama would ultimately sign the legislation into law, Kevin Hall, the press secretary for Warner, said, “I believe so. These are identified projects by the Army Corps and state and local governments. They certainly fit in with the president’s emphasis on energy innovation and resource protection.”

Besides the river basin study, the bill would provide funding for the Corps, the Department of Energy, the Bureau of Water Reclamation, nuclear energy and waste disposal, technology loans, uranium enrichment and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

“Better infrastructure, improved waterways and increased public safety are essential to spurring economic development in the Hampton Roads area,” Webb said in a written statement Friday.

Added Warner, “These investments will allow southeastern Virginia to make progress on important flood mitigation, wetlands restoration and additional oyster beds.”

The latest proposal is in addition to $96,000 from the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, which was given to the Corps to conduct a reconnaissance study of the watershed. The reconnaissance study will evaluate how to protect and restore wetlands and forest buffers damaged by flooding and erosion, reduce flood damages and improve navigation.

In October, the Corps began a $90,000 project in the basin, installing six stream gauges at locations along the Meherrin, the Nottoway and the Blackwater. Future plans call for the installation of additional stream gauges as well as rainfall and water-quality gauges.

The Blackwater, Nottoway and Meherrin rivers are all part of the Chowan River Basin, which is about 130 miles long and drains 5,000 square miles of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

Hurricane Floyd was the flood of record in 1999, followed by the flood in October 2006. Hurricane Isabel in 2003 was ranked fifth-highest.

Some possible explanations for the floods include consecutive weather events, fallen trees, encroachment from development, accumulation of silt in tributaries and reservoirs or a combination of these.