Flood study passes hurdle
Published 8:54 am Friday, October 9, 2009
WASHINGTON—Legislation that includes funding for an Army Corps of Engineers study of the Chowan River Basin has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and will now move on to the Senate for final approval.
The House voted 308-114 to pass the conference report for bill HR3183, also known as the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2010. U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., voted in favor of the report.
The conference report version of the bill, which totals $33.46 billion, provides $130,000 for the Corps to conduct a reconnaissance study of the Chowan River Basin, which in the last decade has experienced record flooding six times.
“This additional funding will move us that much closer to the finish line in determining the reason for flooding and the ways that we can eliminate the risk of flooding,” Forbes said Thursday.
Forbes was one of 70 Republicans to vote in favor of the bill on Oct. 1, joining 238 Democrats. Meanwhile, 102 Republicans and 12 Democrats voted against the bill’s passage, and 10 House members — five from each party — did not vote.
The $130,000 designated for the Chowan River Basin study was less than the $215,000 earmarked in a Senate version of the bill totalling $34 billion that passed on July 29, but was more than what the House originally allocated when it first passed its $33.3 billion version of the bill on July 17.
“We are very pleased that there will be some resources with which to begin to study the watershed,” Southampton County Administrator Michael Johnson said Thursday. “It’s been an area that we have been concerned about going back to 1999 and the storms that have followed.”
The Senate and House votes were 85-9 and 320-97, respectively. Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb had both voted in favor of the Senate version of the bill.
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.
The $130,000 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.
“When you look at the history, at the number of storms of record since 1999, it becomes apparent that there have been some types of changes in the watershed,” Johnson said. “I suspect these changes are contributing to the increased frequency of flooding. Hopefully this study can help identify what those changes have been, and also help identify some measures that we might use to mitigate those changes.”
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.