Florence has dissipated but wet weather remains throughout the area as the storm’s bands move into the Northeast. Flooding continues in the Carolina’s. Florence was not the only storm endangering US territory – Typhoon Mangkhut, 2018’s strongest storm on record, slammed into Guam and the Philippines on September 15th at peak strength with sustained winds of roughly 160 mph, the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane. Despite greater anticipated damage to infrastructure from Florence along a well-developed coastline, Typhoon Mangkhut is a bigger, stronger and more life-threatening storm. Serious winds can be seen in the Philippines here, blowing roofs off of structures and heaving them downwind. These winds were much stronger than those reported by this Wilmington, NC, weatherman here in appearing to fake worse conditions than those present. It’s worth a laugh if you haven’t seen it. That is not to say the damages from Florence have not been catastrophic for some low-lying towns like New Bern, NC.
Parts of South Carolina on I-95 have flooded and those parts of the highway are currently closed - Tornado warnings remain with pressure bands still circulating in the area. The Cape Fear River is still rising and is expected to crest at nearly 62 feet sometime Tuesday, almost doubling the river’s 35-foot flood stage. Erosion from a coal ash landfill has overflowed and is being monitored for storm water pollution. Meanwhile, wastewater and manure lagoons in North Carolina are being closely watched for leaks and indications of failures. No incidents have been reported so far.
Mangkhut is pushing a 23-foot storm surge in some regions, with landslides and wide spread flash flooding inevitable. On the bright side, the Philippine government is reported to be getting better at responding to natural disasters after the many lessons learned from previous disasters. Supplies were readied before the storm hit, but it is unclear how well the roughly 10 million people will fare against being in the direct path of the storm. So far the death toll has risen to over 64 and concerns persist about dozens of miners and their families being trapped after landslides. Now hitting Hong Kong, Mangkhut is officially the city’s most intense storm since records began.
Democrats propose restorations of earmarks if they get control of the House - Bringing back earmarks would give appropriators a streamlined framework for formulating appropriations and getting dollars to go where they need to go, and often where they should. Congress has been urging the Corps to ‘fund projects to completion’ and make sure studies are funded through the Preconstruction-Engineering Design (PED) phase. In the words of the Congress, ‘a study is not complete until PED is complete.’ But some of the Corps’ projects have not been funded to completion, and some studies have not completed PED, because of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget’s budget policies. The President can earmark, but since 2008 Congress gave up the ability to earmark and has been at the mercy of the acting Administration. This has had a detrimental effect on water resources funding.
Funding for specific projects, particularly beach projects, is a result of the benefit-cost ratio (BCR) we’ve so often discussed here at WaterLog. Without Congressional earmarks, some projects (which have far more than just economic value) must compete in a fiscal arena against larger projects that are entirely focused on the nation’s economic development (NED). NED is important, but we must remember that much of our economy is reliant on travel and tourism, for much of which are beaches and beach towns serve as a medium for revenue. Earmarking projects would allow them to bypass the economic challenge projects face at OMB. There are simply some projects that don’t meet the rigorous 2.5:1 BCR that OMB wants for Shore Protection projects, but nonetheless have positive economic impact and lasting environmental, safety, cultural and recreational benefits. This year’s WRDA seeks to address BCR concerns.
**Here is the version of the WRDA bill discussed below: https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20180910/S3021.pdf **
A regionality provision in this year’s WRDA – WRDA, which was passed by the House last week and is to be considered soon in the Senate, generates coastal regionality (and therefore resource and cost savings) by authorizing a pilot program (Section 1112) that allows hurricane and storm reduction program projects to award a single contract for more than one authorized hurricane and storm damage reduction project, rather than on a project-by-project basis. This will allow a dredge contractor to nourish more than one beach with a single dredge unit mobilization. On the low end, mobilization and demobilization costs are roughly $2 million dollars and can be triple that in some circumstances, amounting to often 10-15% of the total project cost. This is the type of provision Congress needs to accept, and work is being done towards getting similar provisions in years to come to further develop regionality. WRDA managers expect that as these new authorities and processes are implemented, project delivery speed will increase and investment will increase in water resources development.
A bad move by Congress retained the language in Section 1160 that authorized Flood Control & Coastal Emergency (FCCE) funds to restore damaged authorized projects to a ‘design level of protection’ or pre-storm levels. This is a problem because the pre-storm level already needs more sand, and a ‘design level of protection’ doesn’t exist. This means that a damaged beach can only be returned back to an inadequate state. The purpose here is to save money on building bigger beaches intermittently with FCCE funds, but the real cost is that beaches that need a full nourishment will only get a partial one, and that will consequently lead to a greater overall cost when that dredge comes back a year or two later for a scheduled periodic nourishment. The image below is from the policy guidance released by Corps Headquarters on May 11, 2018. The ‘design level of protection’ is “the project’s design profile template that reflects the project’s minimum (emphasis added) design dimensions that provide for the project’s benefits that would trigger renourishment of the project.” The minimum dimensions that provide for the project benefits are thereby, in theory, an eroded beach ready for nourishment that has one grain of additional sand added to it. Once that single grain of sand is gone, that beach is triggered for needing renourishment, and the gateway for this funding opens up. Does this sound right to you? This needs to be clarified so that beaches are restored to ‘pre-storm levels’ or to the full project profile.
Image: Policy Guidance Memorandum, Corps HQ
Development of Comprehensive Plans (Planning Assistance to States) – Originally this provision in the House bill was just for regional coalitions, which was a bump up from the past WRDA. Even better, now the provision (Section 1159) includes higher education to the group of eligible candidates for assistance in developing comprehensive plans for the development, utilization and conservation of the water and related resources of drainage basins, watersheds, or ecosystems.
Sediment Management - The Corps is directed to expedite the material management plan process and make maximum use of existing information, studies, and innovative dredge material management practices. This should make better use of a scarce commodity.
Outlook of the Managers of WRDA –
- The Corps is encouraged to proceed with a sense of urgency relating to the development of water resources projects in Puerto Rico
- The Secretary should simplify and expedite the process for including in-kind work in project partnership agreements, consistent with current law
- The managers encourage robust annual funding for water resources
- The Continuing Authorities Programs should receive full appropriations each year
A deadly Shark attack in Massachusetts has beachgoers worried, though the beaches were closed more than 25 times during this summer due to shark sighting. This marks the first time in 80 years that a person has died from an attack in MA. White sharks are native to northeastern Atlantic. Keep an eye out if you’re swimming in the Atlantic at this time because this is when sharks migrate shoreward towards their foraging sites in search of seals.
The looming threat of repeated large-scale evacuation of military personnel prompts concern over how military leaders should respond to, adapt to and fund the consequences of sea level rise and climate change. Tens of thousands of military personnel were evacuated prior to Florence, dozens of ships were ordered to sea and more than 100 airplanes were relocated, amounting to a massive logistical operation. Since Sandy, Congress ordered an in-depth assessment of the Northeastern seaboard’s vulnerability to climate change. In that report, nine locations were identified that would benefit from mitigation measures. It is hard to get funding period – if military bases can’t get the maintenance funding they need, how is it expected that funding for protection will be provided? “This is a risk that shouldn’t be ignored,” said John Conger, the director of the Center for Climate & Security.