Decades of progress by the U.S. Corps of Engineers in flood control and navigation in the lower Mississippi River Valley are threatened with “being decimated or eliminated” due to federal budget cuts, the president of Mississippi’s Delta Council says.

“As Congress and the White House entertain the talking heads on Fox News, major highway construction legislation, water resource developments for the transport of commerce in this nation … will be cracking around its foundation,” Cass Pennington told the Mississippi River Commission at its public hearing at Greenville, Miss.

The commission, in a series of public hearings at ports along the Mississippi River, presented details of how proposed cuts to the Corps of Engineers budget could adversely impact transport of goods — including a large percentage of the nation’s grains shipped into export — on the big river, its tributaries, and lakes that are under the Corps’ purview.

While the 112th Congress went to Washington in January with a strong message from the November 2010 elections that spending reform and fiscal responsibility were top priorities, Pennington said “We never once heard media reports indicating that the public was telling Congress to drastically cut our nation’s commitment to maintenance or construction of infrastructure improvements throughout the U.S.”

It is “appalling,” he said, “that instead of including all defense and entitlement spending as a part of its effort to reduce the deficit, Congress has essentially chosen to identify a small percentage of the federal government’s discretionary accounts, and has either drastically reduced or eliminated them.”

Flood control and navigation in the lower Mississippi River Valley, and virtually all of the previously authorized features of the Mississippi Rivers and Tributaries Act, “are being decimated,” Pennington said.

“Rather than talking about the accomplishments of the Corps of Engineers in establishing a new ‘gold standard’ for achieving higher water quality through a channel enlargement project on Steele Bayou in Mississippi, we are saddened to report that the continued progress of the Corps in improving water quality on major tributaries of the Mississippi River is being eliminated due to the political rhetoric surrounding the elimination of congressional directives.”

Those directives, Pennington noted, constitute only seven-tenths of one percent of the federal budget, “and they are never in addition to or over budget allocations — rather, they are within and under the approved budget.”

It is Delta Council’s view, he said, that congressionally-authorized activities that are major pieces of a comprehensive plan for flood protection and environmental restoration in a balanced approach “do not represent the type of deficit reduction many people envisioned when they went to the polls last November.