Rep. Christopher Cox

U.S. House of Representatives

Irvine Basin Surface and Groundwater Improvement Act of 2003

October 15, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I thank the chairman for yielding me the time.

   The Irvine Basin Surface and Groundwater Improvement Act is a bill that, as its author, of course, I am very pleased to see on the floor, but one also that I am very very grateful to the committee for producing. This is going to make a very important contribution to improving water quality in southern California.

   I would especially like to thank and recognize the efforts of the gentleman from California (Mr. Pombo), the chairman of the Committee on Resources. I would like to thank the gentlewoman from California (Mrs. Napolitano) and the gentleman from West Virginia (Mr. Rahall), the ranking member, for their support and leadership, and also my colleague from Orange County (Mr. Calvert), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Water and Power. I thank all of them for their active interest in and support of this important legislation.

   This bill authorizes the Federal Government to assist in designing a series of wetlands. As the gentlewoman from California (Mrs. Napolitano) has said, this is an innovative approach, one that has the support of environmentalists and government leaders alike. This series of wetlands is going to clean up polluted surface runoff within the San Diego Creek Watershed in Orange County, California.

   For those of my colleagues who are not familiar with southern California, the San Diego Creek is one of our region's major watersheds. It empties into Upper Newport Bay, one of the largest wetlands in the entire coastal region between Los Angeles and San Diego.

   The Upper Newport Bay is home to over 75 species of fish, nearly 200 species of birds, and a number of threatened and endangered species, including the light-footed clapper rail, Belding's Savannah sparrow, the American osprey, the California brown pelican and California's least tern. In addition, the Bay is an important stop on the Pacific Flyway for 50,000 migratory birds each year.

   Unfortunately, the Upper Newport Bay is threatened by silt and polluted runoff from the San Diego Creek that flows into the Bay. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has declared the water quality of San Diego Creek and its tributaries to be limited. That is a bureaucratic euphemism for hazardous to swim in or drink. The reason for this designation is that drainage from urban surfaces flows unfiltered into the watershed.

   Thankfully, there is a solution on the horizon to save the Upper Newport Bay. This legislation will use a natural treatment system to reduce the amount of silt and pollutants that gets dumped into San Diego Creek and, in turn, into Upper Newport Bay. The plan was developed by environmentalists and local officials, and it relies on wetlands, nature's own system for filtering pollutants out of the water. Specifically, the plan calls for the creation of an entire network of wetlands to be developed along the San Diego Creek basin.

   The natural, beneficial bacteria in the soils of these wetlands, along with plants such as bulrush and cattails, will remove nitrogen and other pollutants from surface runoff. It is expected that this natural treatment system will reduce fecal coliform levels by over 26 percent and each year remove 126,000 pounds of nitrogen and 21,000 pounds of phosphorus from the San Diego Creek.

   In this way, the natural treatment system will help prevent unwanted sediment, nutrients and contaminants from polluting and clogging up San Diego Creek and Upper Newport Bay. It will also provide another major benefit. The creation of all these new wetlands will provide considerable additional wildlife habitat and open space, including habitat for the many threatened and endangered species of the Upper Newport Bay.

For all of these reasons, the Natural Treatment System established by this legislation is strongly supported by local environmental groups, including Orange County Coastkeepers and the Newport Bay Naturalists and Friends. This legislation is also fully supported by our local public officials, including the Irvine Ranch Water District, the County of Orange and the cities of Newport Beach, Lake Forest, Irvine, Orange, Santa Ana, and Tustin.

   This bill, Mr. Speaker, will be of tremendous help to our local environmental efforts. By allowing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which has extensive experience in wetlands restoration, to serve as a partner in this important regional project, H.R. 1598 is an important step toward assuring that the Natural Treatment System moves forward as quickly and cost effectively as possible.

   Finally, I would like to point out that the Natural Treatment System will also provide significant cost savings for the Federal Government. Since the Upper Newport Bay is a Federal waterway, the U.S. Corps of Engineers regularly dredges the bay to remove the accumulation of silt and pollutants. By significantly reducing silt runoff into Upper Newport Bay, the Natural Treatment System will reduce both the Corps of Engineers' dredging expenses and the bill to Federal taxpayers.

   Mr. Speaker, I strongly urge my colleagues to support H.R. 1598 so that we can move forward with this important environmental initiative for Southern California.

See the original in the Congressional Record on Page H9409, and H9410

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