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Higgins Announces Approval of Water Resources Development Act

Jul 29, 2020
Press Release
Bill Includes Higgins’ Text Addressing Harmful Algal Blooms

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) announced the House of Representatives approved the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), a bill providing authority for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out water projects, studies, and Civil Works missions.

Higgins said, “Protecting our fresh water and maintaining waterways is important to our environment, economy, safety and future. The historic decline and recent rise of the Buffalo River provides lessons in protecting and maintaining valuable water resources. Harmful algal blooms pose a threat to our waterways and must be addressed proactively. The professionals at the Army Corps of Engineers, particularly in the Buffalo District, are skilled stewards of our water.”

The package includes language Congressman Higgins fought for which directs the Secretary of the Army to conduct a demonstration program to determine the causes of, and methods to effectively treat and eliminate harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the Great Lakes.  Higgins testified in front of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to detail the success of the Harmful Algal Bloom Interception, Treatment, and Transformation System (HABITATS), pilot program in Lake Okeechobee and fight for a similar program on Lake Erie. 

In the first year of the pilot program, a published report by the United States Army Corps of Engineers concluded the HABITATS dissolved air flotation (DAF) process was proven highly effective in clarifying the water and concentrating the algae, removing 95% of the algae from the water. The clarified and oxidized water was no longer toxic and had greatly reduced levels of phosphorous and nitrogen, making it much cleaner and suitable for discharge into the environment and back into waterways.

HABs are present in all fifty states, regularly occur in Lake Erie’s western basin, and are present in several locations across Western New York. A Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper Water Reporter Map pinpoints algal blooms in the region.  Scientists report the threat of harmful algal blooms is increasing with climate change.

Other highlights of the Water Resources Development Act include:

  • Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study: Requires the Army Corps to examine high lake levels and make recommendations on coastal storm and flood management.
  • Natural Infrastructure: Reviews if nature and nature-based features were considered in Army Corps projects to encourage the use of natural infrastructure.
  • Perfluorinated (PFAS) Chemicals: Requires the Army Corps to undertake an inventory of water resources development projects and associated properties that are or may be contaminated with PFAS, which have been linked to adverse health conditions, and to develop a plan to remediate and limit potential human exposure to the contamination.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District is responsible for the planning, construction and operation of water projects to maintain navigation across a 38,000 square mile area including Lakes Erie and Ontario.  Recent local projects include: seawall repair at Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park (LaSalle Park), reconstruction of the Buffalo South breakwater along the Outer Harbor, and work on the Black Rock Lock.

The Senate Environment and Public Works committee approved similar legislation in May. The bill will come before the full Senate for a vote.