On April 28 the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) advanced a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) by a vote of 19-1. The $9 billion bill authorizes new projects and studies at the Army Corps of Engineers, adds a dam rehabilitation component to the National Dam Safety Program, establishes a new Water Infrastructure Trust Fund and provides $220 million in aid for Flint, Michigan. The last WRDA bill passed Congress in 2014.
Water resource bills were once viewed as so important that Congressional leaders tried to pass one every two years. The legislation is the main mechanism for authorizing new projects at the Army Corps of Engineers—the nation’s largest manager of flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration projects. But with partisanship, fiscal constraints and a self-imposed a ban on earmarks, getting these important projects approved and funded has become more and more difficult.
WRDA bills also can provide policy changes to existing programs across the federal government on issues such as drinking water and wastewater, which have become increasingly important in the wake of the Flint, Michigan lead crises. The legislation approved last week will address western drought issues, increase federal drinking water and clean water infrastructure funding, strengthen the nation’s levees, and make changes to the nation’s dredge material policy, making it easier to use for ecosystem restoration projects. These issues were important to several members of the Committee from western states, coastal states and states with older water infrastructure systems.
Important to the civil engineering profession was that both the dam rehabilitation program and drinking water revolving fund program will be subject to Qualifications Based Selection (QBS)/Brooks Act requirements—another priority of ASCE. The strong vote for the bill is a rarity in Congress and committee staff are optimistic the bill will advance to the Senate floor at the beginning of summer. The House is expected to introduce their version of the bill in late May.