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Congress OKs Water Infrastructure Bill

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

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The U.S. Congress has passed water infrastructure legislation that includes provisions to fund emergency repairs to the drinking water system in Flint, MI, and to perform work that will improve ease of shipping using the nation’s ports.

Flint water tower
© iStock.com / LindaParton

The “Drinking Water Infrastructure” section of the act provides $170 million for aid to drinking water systems under declared emergency in areas considered to be economically disadvantaged—requirements that Flint, MI, currently meets.

The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, previously known as the Water Resources Development Act, was passed by the House of Representatives on Dec. 8 by a vote of 326-96, then was approved by the Senate, 78-21, on Dec. 10.

Drought Measures Spark Controversy

A previous version of the act had passed the Senate 96-3, but changes in language when the bill hit the House made the legislation more contentious. Most notably, a section of the bill that will allow drought relief measures in California that will circumvent endangered-species rules was opposed by some Democrats, who considered blocking the act.

Ultimately, though, aid for Flint, where corrosion in drinking-water pipes led to a public health crisis last year, was seen as the most important aspect of the legislation, and was the reason many Democrats agreed to vote for it.

US Capitol
© iStock.com / OlegAlbinsky

A previous version of the act had passed the Senate 96-3, but the subsequent introduction of language relaxing environmental rules in order to address the California drought made the legislation more contentious.

“Flint had a lot to do with the size of that vote,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint, MI) said. “There are a lot of folks who said, ‘I don’t like what’s in this, there’s a lot of things I can’t tolerate, but Flint has waited too long.’”

“This bill isn’t perfect but I do believe it will help California and it has bipartisan support including Republicans and Democrats in the House, and that’s why I’m supporting it,” Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) said in a statement.

Funding for Flint

The “Drinking Water Infrastructure” section of the act provides $170 million for aid to drinking water systems under declared emergency in areas considered to be economically disadvantaged—requirements that Flint currently meets, though other communities could later qualify.

The money comes in the form of:

  • $100 million designated for grants to states to address public health emergencies related to drinking water;
  • $20 million in secured loans for projects that address lead in drinking water systems;
  • $20 million to form a registry and committee so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can collect data on drinking water systems with lead contamination and monitor the effectiveness of the federal response; and
  • $30 million for childhood lead poisoning prevention programs.

Flint's public health crisis began when the city switched to the Flint River as its main water source; lead pipes began to corrode, leading to dangerous levels of lead in some residents' drinking water. The city has since switched back to getting its water from nearby Detroit, and in the spring began a "Fast Start" program to get service lines to residents' homes replaced.

Charleston Harbor
By Ron Cogswell, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The act authorizes funding for a number of Army Corps of Engineers projects, including the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project.

The act also authorizes funds to help fund a number of projects to be taken on by the Army Corps of Engineers, to address coastal flooding issues and to deepen the harbors at some coastal and inland ports, to better accommodate ship traffic.

One example is the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project, proposed locally and set to be funded partly by $300 million in state money from South Carolina. That project proposes to deepen Charleston Harbor’s entrance channel to 54 feet and its harbor to 52 feet.

Industry Response

Industry voices have applauded the compromise legislation for its investment in maritime transport, flood control and public health.

"AASHTO strongly supports investment in our nation's network of inland waterways and ports that improve the efficient movement of freight through our nation's multimodal transportation network,” said Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“Passage of the WIIN Act is important to state DOTs because, while it is primarily a water resources bill, it also supports important inland waterway transportation and flood control projects that have significant impact on the surface transportation network if they do not move ahead."

"We hope the passage of this bill sets the stage for a continued effort to address this nation's water infrastructure,” said Jon R. Runge, CAE, president of the Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association. “We are encouraged by the commitment of the new administration to infrastructure investment, and look forward to working with the administration and Congress on improvements to water infrastructure.”

   

Tagged categories: Funding; Government; Infrastructure; Lead; North America; Pipeline; potable water; Program/Project Management; Ships and vessels

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