National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 Major water resources bill passes House

By Julie Ufner

The next stop for a just-passed major water infrastructure bill will be a conference committee, where conferees will hammer out the differences between the House Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) and the Senate’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) passed in May.

The legislation (H.R. 3080), which passed the House 417–3 Oct. 23, includes provisions to streamline environmental permitting, increase funding for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for port maintenance and dredging, deauthorizes $12 billion of inactive projects (those with no activity for the past five years); allows non-federal partners to contribute funding to move studies, projects and permits, and preserves the inland Waterways Trust Fund.

The Senate’s WRDA bill (S. 601), which easily passed the Senate in May by a vote of 83–14, contains many similarities but also differs in several respects. For example:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan arm of Congress that analyzes financial effects of bills, estimated the Senate’s WRDA would cost $12.2 billion over 10 years; the CBO scored the House’s WRRDA bill at $3.5 billion over the first five years and $4.7 billion over the following five years for an $8.2 billion total.

WRDA gives the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) sole authority over which projects should move forward; WRRDA establishes a process for project approvals through congressional review, and

S. 601 establishes state and local grants for levee protection; instead of grants, H.R. 3080 permits the Corps to provide technical assistance to state and local governments.

The White House issued a lukewarm statement of support for WRRDA that said it supports the overall concept of the bill, but asked that the bill be “improved with additional reforms and modifications of problematic provisions.” 

House and Senate conferees will be appointed to hash out the differences between WRRDA and WRDA. Assuming the conference committee can resolve the differences, they will issue a conference report, which will then be voted on by House and Senate. House congressional officials expect to see a final vote by the end of the year.

The Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA), upon which WRRDA is based, is a biannual bill last authorized in 2007. As an authorization measure, WRDA does not fund the projects it authorizes. This is done through the annual appropriations process. In general, WRRDA authorizes Corps projects that deal with water resources, environmental, structural and navigation issues, flood protection and hydrology studies. The legisltion also contains policy directives.