After working late into the night, the U.S. Senate voted at 1 a.m. on December 10 to pass a major water infrastructure package, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act (S. 612). The bill passed easily by a vote of 78-21. Included in S. 612 is the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which both the House and Senate passed earlier this year. The Senate passed its version of WRDA on Sept. 15 by a vote of 95-3, while the House passed a slightly different version on Sept. 28 by a vote of 399-25.
A few senators, led by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), threatened to hold up the bill over concerns about language to address the California drought, arguing that the measure would weaken environmental protections and harm California fisheries. These members were ultimately unable to block the bill’s passage.
As owners, operators and regulators of water resources and infrastructure, counties are directly impacted by the policies and funding authorized in the WIIN Act. The final legislation authorizes 30 new infrastructure projects across the country and provides $170 million in aid to address the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan. It also includes language to allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve state programs for the disposal of coal ash and addresses national drought situations, particularly in California. With WRDA attached, the WIIN Act allows the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to make much needed repairs and improvements to America’s dams, ports, waterways, flood protection and other critical water infrastructure.
In addition to authorizing new Corps projects and addressing drinking water emergencies, the WIIN Act also ensures the solvency of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), authorizes $20 million for the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act (WIFIA), provides for the rehabilitation of high hazard non-federal dams and establishes a pilot program to help carry out projects that make use of dredged material.
NACo provided a summary of the bill’s key provisions shortly after the bill was officially released on December 5, 2016.
Despite passage of the WIIN Act, Congress must still appropriate funding for most of the projects within the bill (aid for Flint, Mich. was appropriated through a separate continuing resolution earlier Friday night). This means that the debate over how to actually fund the package will likely fall to the next Congress along with other appropriations priorities. NACo will continue to monitor the appropriations process and work closely with Congress and the administration to ensure that the interests of counties are represented.
Contact: Julie Ufner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.942.4269