This week, the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing entitled “America’s Water Resources Infrastructure: Approaches to Enhanced Delivery Systems.” Witnesses at the hearing included Major General Donald E. Jackson, the Deputy Commanding General for Civil and Emergency Operations at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), James C. Dalton, the Director of Civil Works at the USACE, and a specialist from the Congressional Research Service, among others. This hearing comes a day after the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works’ similar hearing entitled “America’s Water Infrastructure Needs and Challenges: Federal Panel,” which also included top officials from the USACE.
The House T&I hearing focused on alternative financing mechanisms for water resources projects and also discussed the need for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be used for its intended purposes, whether a repeal on the ban of earmarks would speed up the delivery of water resources infrastructure projects, and the USACE’s public-private partnerships (P3s) pilot project authorization.
During the hearing, Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY), an electrical and mechanical engineer, asked the USACE witnesses for a status update on where the agency is in developing policy guidance on the P3 pilot projects. The USACE made note of the single project being undertaken through this authorization, the Fargo Moorhead Metropolitan Flood Risk Management Project. The USACE also said they have not been able to find additional projects that fit within the authorization’s parameters and are waiting on guidance from the Trump Administration on how to select and fund such P3 projects in the future.
ASCE has been a long-time advocate of the USACE’s P3 pilot project authorization. Under Section 5014 of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014, the USACE is authorized to enter agreements with non-federal interests, including private entities, to finance construction of at least 15 authorized water resources development projects. Though this provision requires Congressional appropriation prior to taking effect, funding has yet to be provided.
In 2015, ASCE’s Coasts, Oceans, Ports, and Rivers Institute created the Subcommittee on Alternative Financing of Waterways Infrastructure to evaluate the P3 authorization included in Section 5014 of WRRDA 2014 and to educate, facilitate, and advocate for the use of alternate finance for water resources projects in the country. This report, released by the subcommittee in 2016, outlines how alternative financing can serve as an important resourcing component to supplement traditional federal financing models. A shorter, 2-page summary of the report is available here.
ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave the nation’s inland waterways a grade of “D,” and despite increases in investments and project prioritization, there is a growing overall funding shortfall between the long term, reliable funding needed to build, maintain, and operate water infrastructure projects and the actual appropriations provided to do so. The future of our nation’s security, economy, and our quality of life depends on expanding the tools available to meet our growing infrastructure and funding needs, and an alternative financing and delivery mechanism is one of those tools.