The House, shrugging off a White House veto threat, voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to authorize nearly 400 water projects costing an estimated $20 billion, including $1.2 billion for Santa Ana River flood control.
The massive bill, the first major revamping of water resources policy in 15 years, would authorize lock, dam, port, flood control and other projects in hundreds of congressional districts. It was approved by a vote of 358 to 60.
The measure would provide funds for the long-delayed project to control flooding along the Santa Ana River, the site of two major deluges in the last 20 years. In addition, it would earmark $310 million for deepening Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor channels and $2.5 million for dredging upper Newport Bay.
A key element of the legislation would increase substantially the non-federal share of the cost of new Army Corps of Engineers flood control and navigation projects. The bill also would establish a program for the repair of unsafe non-federal dams and cancel authorization for more than 300 unbuilt corps projects.
The legislation only sets spending ceilings, while actual funding is provided in appropriations bills and could total much less than authorized levels. A companion version of the measure is now before the Senate Finance Committee.
Nevertheless, the Reagan Administration has stiffly protested that the measure is much too expensive, authorizes numerous projects of dubious value and--by exempting many projects in the South from stringent new local cost-sharing requirements--"fails to treat all regions of the nation equitably."
Particularly objectionable to the Administration is a program that would provide federal loans for municipal water supply systems, which it said could make the government potentially liable for more than $100 billion worth of loans.
A White House position paper issued earlier said that President Reagan's advisers would recommend a veto of the bill in its present form. The Administration is more favorably disposed toward the version before the Senate Finance Committee.
A key environmental group also attacked the House bill as "lavish and extravagant." Brent Blackwelder, a spokesman for the Environmental Policy Institute, complained: "No public criteria for selection of projects was ever given. As a result, every cat and dog imaginable is found in this bill."
But Rep. James J. Howard (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, vigorously defended the measure.
"While the total number of projects appears large," he said, "it must be remembered that they represent well over a decade of detailed planning and study of water resources problems throughout the nation and will form the basis of the nation's water resources program for the rest of the century." He called the bill "environmentally sensitive."
Another disastrous flood in the highly urbanized areas of San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties through which the Santa Ana River runs could result in the loss of more than 3,000 lives, and $18 billion in property damage, according to an estimate by members of the California congressional delegation.
Under the bill, the flood control project would entail the building of one dam and improvement of another, as well as the shoring up of flood channels. The measure also would guarantee federal funding of improvements at King Harbor in Redondo Beach and would provide for a feasibility study on halting landslides along the Rancho Palos Verdes shoreline.
California Rep. Glenn M. Anderson (D-Hawthorne) said the deepening of Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors would help the two ports triple their trade volume by the year 2020. He said 800 acres of land will be created by the dredging, permitting the relocation of facilities for handling toxic materials away from high-density residential areas.
The Senate and Administration proposals generally would require non-federal interests to pay more for project costs than would the House bill. For example, although the House and Senate bills both mandate identical cash payments for harbor-deepening projects, the Senate measure would make local administrations pay an additional 10% over time with interest.
In addition, the Senate bill would not provide loan guarantees for the local share of port construction projects. However, both measures would levy a new .04% cargo tax designed to cover much of federal operations and maintenance expenses.
Both bills also would require non-federal interests to pay at least 25% of flood control costs, including 5% in cash. But again, the House bill is more generous to local project sponsors because it would cap the local share at 30%; the Senate bill has no cap.
The legislation also would create an independent, interagency board that would establish uniform standards for the evaluation, selection and planning of water projects.
Proponents, including some environmental groups, argued that the proposed board would help reform water resources development policy, which is currently handled by several different agencies, while the Administration objected that it would only add to bureaucratic confusion.