Infrastructure Bills Move Forward

June 6, 2018

In recent weeks, two pieces of legislation have been approved by their respective committees which would address key infrastructure-related issues specific to water storage, floodwater protection, port improvement, and other various water-related infrastructure improvements.

America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (S. 2800)

On May 22, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) unanimously passed a bipartisan water infrastructure bill that is meant, among other things, to cut red tape, increases state and local stakeholder input for water infrastructure projects, increase water storage, deepen key ports and extend funding for Native American irrigation initiatives.

The America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (S. 2800), introduced by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Tom Carper (Del.), is aimed at supporting our nation’s economic competitiveness by increasing water storage, providing protection from dangerous floodwaters, increasing local stakeholder input, deepening nationally significant ports, and maintaining the navigability of inland waterways across the country.

The water infrastructure legislation, which Congress re-ups every two years, was one of several bills Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) mentioned in March when he said Congress would pursue an infrastructure overhaul in five or six pieces of legislation.

Key provisions in America’s Water Infrastructure Act:

  • The legislation would cut bureaucratic red tape by creating an additional framework for project selection to ensure local communities have more control over which projects receive funding.
  • The bill requires the identification of $7.5 billion worth of previously authorized feasibility studies for deauthorization due to their lack of viability.
  • Reauthorizes The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) and the Securing Required Funding for Water Infrastructure Now Act (SRF WIN Act) which authorizes millions of dollars to accelerate investments in our nation’s water infrastructure, leveraging to billions of dollars in investment.
  • The bill allows for sediment management plans for Army Corps and Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs to restore the active water storage capacity of these reservoirs. Many of these reservoirs have lost a significant amount of water storage capacity due to sediment build up.
  • The bill increases transparency during the permitting process for new water storage projects done by a state or local government. This provision will allow the Army Crops to more clearly and quickly assess and communicate the purpose and need, and draft permit conditions, on proposed new or modified water storage projects. The bill also allows for district level determinations by the Army Corps on purpose and need, and permit conditions, to be challenged and reviewed by a new board of appeals at the request of the applicant, prior to a final federal permit decision.
  • The legislation increases overall authorizations for certain Continuing Authorities Programs (CAP), as well as their corresponding “per project” authorizations. This will increase the amount of authorized water resource projects in this country, which are integral to our infrastructure, such as flood damage reduction projects.
  • The legislation authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide grants to small and medium water systems (systems that serve a population size of up to 75,000 people) for training and technical assistance in achieving Clean Water Act compliance and assist in obtaining financing for eligible clean water projects.
  • The legislation extends until 2028 the program to address the deferred maintenance needs of Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) dams. These dams protect communities across the West from dangerous floods.
  • The bill establishes a ten-year pilot program to expedite the review of applications for permits to expand small city (80,000 people or less) reservoirs to increase water storage and supply if the city water supplies have been polluted from legacy Department of Defense (DOD) activities where mitigation is occurring.
  • The legislation will improve transparency at the Army Corps. Several provisions in the legislation would require the Army Corps to increase transparency and accountability such as, issuing outstanding guidance, distributing repayments, identifying impediments of their programs and reporting their internal decision making processes.
  • Provisions of the legislation expedite the construction of Army Corps projects by:
    • allowing the Army Corps to accept advanced funds from non-federal sponsors to carry out any water resource projects or from changing the non-federal cost-shares retroactively;
    • requiring the Army Corps to conduct a study to identify the measures necessary to expedite water resource projects; and
    • Reauthorizing a pilot program that evaluates the cost-effectiveness and project delivery efficiency of non-federal interests carrying out feasibility studies and the construction of projects.
  • This legislation extends the Indian Irrigation Fund through fiscal year 2028. This fund was created in the WIIN Act and is used for maintenance, repair, and replacement activities of Indian irrigation projects.

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2018

 On the other side of the Capitol, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure unanimously approved the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2018, legislation that provides for improvements to the Nation’s ports, inland waterways, locks, dams, flood protection, ecosystem restoration, and other water resources infrastructure.

Highlights to WRDA 2018 include:

  • Authorizes locally driven, but nationally vital, investments in the Nation’s water resources infrastructure.
  • Strengthens economic growth and competitiveness, helps move goods throughout the country and abroad, and protects the communities.
  • Follows the transparent process Congress established under the 2014 reforms for considering proposed Army Corps of Engineers activities.
  • Builds upon previous reforms of the Corps to further accelerate the process for moving projects forward more efficiently and at lower cost.
  • Upholds Congress’ constitutional duty to provide for infrastructure and facilitate commerce for the Nation.