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House Passes $9.9B Water Legislation

Thursday, December 17, 2020

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Last week, the United States House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, authorizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works mission areas for the next two years.

Projects on the Corps’ slate include navigation, flood damage reduction, hurricane and storm damage reduction, shoreline protection and ecosystem restoration.

“Today, the House took crucial action to Build Back Better by passing the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act of 2020, which will strengthen and improve our nation’s vital water infrastructure that millions of Californians and Americans across the country depend on,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“As the climate crisis exacts a growing toll on our communities, this legislation takes bold steps to authorize and reform Army Corps of Engineers initiatives that will be essential to create good-paying jobs, upgrade harbor infrastructure and sustain critical natural resources that allow our local economies to grow and thrive.”

About WRDA

Building on bipartisan bills passed in 2014, 2016 and 2018, the newest legislation is the result of negotiations with the Senate since House passage of H.R. 7575 in late July that is essential to the nation’s ports, harbors, and inland waterways, as well as ecosystem restoration and flood mitigation in both rural and urban communities.

LawrenceSawyer / Getty Images

Last week, the United States House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, authorizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works mission areas for the next two years.

Some of WRDA 2020’s study and construction authorizations include:

  • Authorizing the construction of all 46 pending Corps Chief’s Reports received since the enactment of WRDA 2018. Chief’s Reports are the final recommendations to Congress by the Chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on rigorously studied water resources infrastructure priorities;
  • Authorizing 27 feasibility studies for water resources development projects, including those identified through the public review process established by section 7001 of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014; and
  • Directing the Corps to complete six comprehensive river basin studies for the Great Lakes, the Lower Mississippi River, the Upper Mississippi River, the Lower Missouri River Basin, the Upper Missouri River, and the Sacramento River.

Although the bill will provide funding for a variety of Corps’ projects, advocates of Environmental Protection Agency water infrastructure programs were reportedly disappointed that the bipartisan bill didn’t include funding for projects outside of the Civil Works mission.

This view was mimicked by other water industry officials as well. Nathan Gardner-Andrews, National Association of Clean Water Agencies general counsel and chief advocacy officer, said in a statement, “It is disappointing Congress was unable to provide needed new funding for public clean water utilities in the final WRDA package, especially given the amazing work these utilities have done on the front lines of public health protection since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Despite the backlash, the Engineering News-Record points out that the bill embodies important policy changes, noting on a change in the cost shares for inland waterway projects, to 65% from the general fund and 35% from the Inland Waterway Trust Fund, from a 50-50 split now. The adjustment reportedly allows for trust fund dollars to stretch farther and assist more projects.

Additionally, the bill further opens the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which could lead to a significant increase in funding for U.S. ports and harbors, and according to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee bill summary, authorizes an additional $2 billion per year for harbor dredging projects from the trust fund’s balance. However, release of the funds would be up to the appropriations committees. 

To ensure the Corps places a priority on sustainable development and the restoration of natural ecological systems, the secretary of the Army will have to issue final procedures for its “Principles, Requirements and Guidelines” for water projects. The practice is meant to clarify that projects’ natural features would have the same federal cost share as those with structural features.

“WRDA is a great example of commonsense, bipartisan policy in action. Water infrastructure is essential to our daily operations, whether you live in downtown New York City or on a farm in rural Oregon,” said Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Bruce Westerman (R-Arkansas) said. “I’m glad to see all of Congress working together on this bill to get it to President Trump’s desk. I look forward to seeing it implemented across the country.”

A summary of the bill can be viewed, here.


Tagged categories: Environmental Protection; Government; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; U.S. Army; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Water/Wastewater

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