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National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

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 Congress reaches agreement over Water Resources bill

By Jessica Monahan and Julie Ufner
ASSOCIATE LEGISLATIVE DIRECTORS


The U.S House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate recently passed the bipartisan conference report for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) (H.R. 3080). The legislation now heads to the president’s desk for his signature. 

WRRDA originally passed both chambers last fall.  However, since the House and Senate passed different versions, leadership appointed a formal conference committee to reconcile significant differences between the two bills. The house passed the report on May 20, the Senate on May 22.

During negotiations, one of the key differences between the House-passed and Senate-passed legislation was how U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) would identify and select water infrastructure projects for funding.  Historically, Congress has relied on earmarks to authorize funding for water resources projects, which conflicts with the earmark moratorium adopted in both the House and Senate. 

Both bills took different approaches to avoid a conflict with the moratorium — the Senate’s bill gave the Corps sole authority over selecting which projects should move forward, and the House bill established a process for congressional approval.  After careful negotiation, the conference report endorsed policy modeled on the House bill but also included more projects (34) than the original (23) in the House-passed bill.

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

Some of the relevant provisions in the WRRDA conference report that counties should be aware of include:

Project Streamlining makes reforms aimed at accelerating project delivery, and increasing flexibility and local participation. These reforms include requiring concurrent environmental reviews, ensuring collaboration among all agencies involved in a project, establishing deadlines for feasibility studies, increasing flexibility for non-federal sponsors of Corps projects (including counties) and creating two pilot programs to expand the local role in project implementation.

Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund increases expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for harbor operation, dredging and maintenance activities in future fiscal years, with the goal of fully utilizing HMTF revenues by the year 2025. (Currently only about half of the $1.8 billion collected in the HMTF is spent on harbor infrastructure projects, the remainder  has contributed to a surplus or has been transferred to be used on projects not tied to the trust fund).

Levee Vegetation Management requires the Corps to carry out a comprehensive review of its Levee Vegetation Management plan to ensure it addresses regional differences and protection of species habitat, while ensuring public safety. The issue stems from a Corps policy that requires all vegetation, except grass, to be removed from levees in order to allow for easier inspections and to reduce any potential

weakening of levees through root growth.  The Corps’ vegetation requirement created considerable challenges for local governments and flood control agencies, the policy was often in direct conflict with federal or state laws and regulations that prohibited the removal of vegetation on or next to the levees, particularly when the vegetation provides habitat for threatened or endangered species. 

Levee Certification provides a pathway for local communities to challenge levee decertifications within the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  Levees are an important part of any flood-mitigation program and exist across the nation.  Since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, many levees have been decertified nationally, with little option for appeal.  A levee accreditation designation means communities could be exempted from NFIP’s mandatory flood insurance program and restricted land use designations.

Water Infrastructure Funding includes several provisions on water infrastructure funding, one which has generated some debate.  The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014 (WIFIA) is a five-year financing pilot program that will allow the Corps and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide direct loans and loan guarantees for construction of water infrastructure projects, including levee and flood-control projects, drinking water systems and wastewater treatment plants. Water projects financed in whole or in part with any sort of tax-exempt financing would not quality for WIFIA funding.

Some members of Congress who oppose WIFIA expressed concerns that WIFIA threatens EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), which is used to fund water infrastructure in communities.  In an effort to appease these concerns, conferees included provisions to strengthen CWSRF by allowing flexibility in loan terms and broadening the types of projects that qualify for CWSRF assistance.

Projects Expected to Receive Funding

State

Name

Estimated Costs

Texas, Louisiana

Sabine Neches Waterway, SE Texas and SW Louisiana

Federal: $748.1 million; Non-Federal: $366 million; Total: $1.1 billion

Florida

Jacksonville Harbor - Milepoint

Federal: $27.8 million; Non-Federal: $9.3 million; Total: $37.2 million

Georgia

Savannah Harbor Expansion Project

Federal: $492 million; Non-Federal: $214 million; Total: $706 million

Texas

Freeport Harbor

Federal: $121 million; Non-Federal: $118.3 million; Total: $239.3 million

Florida

Canaveral Harbor (Sect 203 Sponsor Report)

Federal: $29.2 million; Non-Federal: $11.8 million; Total: $41 million

Massachusetts

Boston Harbor

Federal: $216.5 million; Non-Federal: $94.5 million; Total: $311 million

Florida

Lake Worth Inlet

Federal: $57.6 million; Non-Federal: $31 million; Total: $88.6 million

Florida

Jacksonville Harbor

Federal: $362 million; Non-Federal: $239 million; Total: $601 million

Flood Risk Management

Kansas

Topeka

Federal: $17.4 million; Non-Federal: $9.4 million; Total: $26.8 million

California

American River, Watershed, Common Features Project, Natomas Basin

Federal: $760.7 million; Non-Federal: $386.6 million; Total: $1.1 billion

Iowa

Cedar River, Cedar Rapids

Federal: $73.1 million; Non-Federal: $39.4 million; Total: $112.5 million

Minnesota, North Dakota

Fargo-Moorhead Metro

Federal: $846.7 million; Non-Federal: $1.1 billion; Total: $1.9 billion

Kentucky

Ohio River Shoreline, Paducah

Federal: $13.2 million; Non-Federal: $7.1 million; Total: $20.3 million

Missouri

Jordan Creek, Springfield

Federal: $13.6 million; Non-Federal: $7.3 million; Total: $20.9 million

California

Orestimba Creek, San Joaquin River Basin

Federal: $23.7 million; Non-Federal: $21.7 million; Total: $45.4 million

California

Sutter Basin

Federal: $255.3 million; Non-Federal: $433.7 million; Total: $689 million

Nevada

Truckee Meadows

Federal: $181.6 million; Non-Federal: $99.2 million; Total: $280.8 million

Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction

North Carolina

West Onslow Beach and New River Inlet (Topsail Beach)

Federal: $29.9 million; Non-Federal: $16.4 million; Total: $46.3 million

Renourishment Federal: $69.4 million; Renourishment Non-Federal: $69.4 million; Total: $138.8 million

North Carolina

Surf City and North Topsail Beach

Federal: $84.7 million; Non-Federal: $45.7 million; Total: $130.4 million

Renourishment Federal: $122.2 million; Renourishment Non-Federal: $122.2 million; Total: $244.4 million

California

San Clemente Shoreline

Federal: $7.4 million; Non-Federal: $4 million; Total: $11.4 million

Renourishment Federal: $43.8 million; Renourishment Non-Federal: $43.8 million; Total: $87.6 million

Florida

Watson County

Federal: $17.9 million; Non-Federal: $46.1 million; Total: $64 million

Renourishment Federal: $24.7 million; Renourishment Non-Federal: $82.8 million; Total: $107.6 million

Louisiana

Morganza to the Gulf

Federal: $6.7 million; Non-Federal: $3.6 million; Total: $10.3 million

Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction and Environmental Restoration

Mississippi

Coastal Improvement Program, Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties

Federal: $693.3 million; Non-Federal: $373.3 million; Total: $1 billion

Maryland

Mid-Chesapeake Bay Island

Federal: $1.2 billion; Non-Federal: $668.1 million; Total: $1.9 billion

Florida

Central and Southern Florida Project, Comprhensive Everglades

Restoration Plan, Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage

Project, Hendry County

Federal: $313.3 million; Non-Federal: $313.3 million; Total: $626.6 million

Louisiana

Louisiana Coastal Area

Federal: $1 billion; Non-Federal: $601 million; Total: $1.6 billion

Minnesota

Marah Lake

Federal: $6.8 million; Non-Federal: $3.7 million; Total: $10.5 million

Florida

Central and Southern Florida Project, Comprhensive Everglades

Restoration Plan, C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project

Federal: $87.3 million; Non-Federal: $87.3 million; Total: $174.6 million

Florida

CERP Biscayne Bay, Coastal Wetland, Florida

Federal: $98.5 million; Non-Federal: $98.5 million; Total: $197 million

Florida

Central and Southern Florida Project, Broward County Water Preserve

Federal: $448 million; Non-Federal: $448 million; Total: $896 million

Louisiana

Louisiana Coastal Area - Barataria Basin Barrier

Federal: $321.7 million; Non-Federal: $173.2 million; Total: $494.9 million

North Carolina

Neuse River Basin

Federal: $23.8 million; Non-Federal: $12.8 million; Total: $36.6 million

Virginia

Lynnhaven River

Federal: $22.8 million; Non-Federal: $12.3 million; Total: $35.1 million

Oregon

Willamette River Foodplain Restoration

Federal: $27.4 million; Non-Federal: $14.7 million; Total: $42.1 million