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Congress Passes Water Infrastructure Bill With Provisions Backed by the ACHP

 

On December 10, the Senate passed the revised House version of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. The measure now goes to the President for signature.

Several provisions supported by the ACHP in a recent letter to Congress were included: a review of the Army Corps of Engineers’ tribal consultation policy; the creation of a public interest criterion for assessing Corps properties; and the addressing of cultural resources in a new Indian dam safety program. The ACHP believes all three provisions will enhance the Corps’ consideration of cultural resources, particularly those of interest to Indian tribes.

The tribal consultation provision requires the Corps to review its policies, regulations, and guidance related to consulting with Indian tribes on water resources development projects or other activities that require the approval of, or the issuance of a permit by, the Corps and that may have an impact on tribal cultural or natural resources. The result of this review will be a report to Congress. Given past controversies regarding the adequacy of the Corps’ consultation with Indian tribes on cultural and natural resource issues, the review called for in the provision could be an important step toward more effective tribal consultation on future projects.

The public interest criterion provision makes an important change to the criteria used by the Corps in determining which of its properties—including dams, flood control structures, levees and reservoirs—are not needed to fulfill its missions and is a candidate for disposal. The provision adds a criterion addressing the economic, cultural, historic, or recreational significance of properties. This addition will help to ensure that broader, public interest issues–including historical significance – are considered during the Corps’ evaluation of the properties it manages.

The dam safety provision authorizes the Secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the Corps, to carry out a program to address the safety of federal dams in Indian Country. The provision requires, among other things, that the Corps take into account risks to natural and cultural resources when addressing the deferred maintenance needs of Indian dams.

 

Posted August 13, 2014

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