Congress moves forward with Water Resources Development Act bill

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House and Senate committee leadership reach compromise on comprehensive water infrastructure package: Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) Bipartisan legislation would authorize $6.1 billion for U.S. Army Corps studies and projects and $4.4 billion for the state drinking water revolving loan fund program The House is expected to vote on the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) on Thursday, September 13

On September 10, a compromise version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) was announced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). The House is expected to take up the comprehensive water infrastructure package as early as Thursday, September 13, with the Senate following soon after. As major owners, users and regulators of water resources and infrastructure, counties are directly impacted by the policies and funding authorized by WRDA, which addresses county interests related to ports, inland waterways, levees, dams, wetlands, watersheds and coastal restoration.

The bill, America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, was pieced together from a previously passed House WRDA package (H.R. 8) and a yet-to-be-voted-on Senate WRDA bill (S. 2800). The compromise version would authorize a wide variety of water resource projects and policies administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps), including navigation, flood control, hydropower, recreation, ports, harbors, inland waterways, water supply and emergency management.

Most notably for counties, the WRDA legislation includes numerous provisions that would require the Army Corps to consult with impacted stakeholders, including local governments. The bill would also authorize $6.1 billion for Army Corps studies and projects and would include $4.4 billion for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program, which provides monies to states and utilities to improve drinking water infrastructure.

Other provisions of interest to counties include the following:

  • Requiring the Army Corps to develop a process to consult with stakeholders, including states and local governments, on future and pending WRDA projects, annual district budgets, deauthorized projects and guidance documents.
  • Authorizing studying the existing cost-benefit analyses used by the Army Corps and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to determine which water resource projects are submitted to Congress for WRDA authorization.
  • Allowing communities to work with the Army Corps on decertified levees. The bill would allow the Army Corps to provide technical assistance, on a reimbursable basis, to local governments that own levees not accredited by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Decertified levees lead to higher National Flood Insurance Program costs for homeowners. This provision would authorize the Army Corps to identify barriers to certification.
  • Increasing the focus on natural and nature-based features. For projects in an aquatic ecosystem or estuary, the Army Corps could consider and include natural and nature-based features into projects.
  • Increasing the focus on renewable energy projects. The bill would require the Army Corps to identify dams that can be used for hydropower and ports that can be used for wind energy. This would increase the use of renewable energy nationwide.
  • Requiring drinking water systems with over 3,300 users to undertake risk assessment and emergency response plans to assess the risk to and resilience of its system from both natural and manmade hazards.

To view a section-by-section summary of the legislation, please click here

WRDA legislation is historically passed every two years. However, in recent years, Congress has only been able to enact three WRDA bills: in 2007, 2014 and 2016. WRDA currently has a backlog of nearly $100 billion worth of projects that have been authorized but have not yet received appropriations. If passed by Congress, the current WRDA legislation would be added to the list of projects awaiting congressional appropriations. NACo supports congressional efforts to move WRDA back to a two-year authorization cycle.

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