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Key Senators unveil $24.6B water resources bill

April 30, 2022   Engineering News-Record

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Key Senators unveil $24.6B water resources bill

Engineering News-Record – Troy, MI – 4/30/22


Senate Environment and Public Works Committee leaders rolled out a bipartisan water resources bill on April 29 that would authorize about $24.6 billion in federal funds for 21 Army Corps of Engineers flood and hurricane protection, harbor dredging and other projects around the country.


In releasing the text of the draft bill, Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the panel’s top Republican, said they plan to hold a committee vote on the measure on May 4.


By far the biggest individual project allocation in the proposed legislation is $19.2 billion for a coastal Texas restoration plan. The project’s estimated total cost is $30.9 billion.


The lawmakers are aiming to have Congress clear a new Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, this year. That would continue the practice in recent years of passing a WRDA on a biennial schedule.


As with past WRDAs, project authorizations are the centerpieces of the new proposal.


Besides the coastal Texas project, another large allotment in the bill is $1.5 billion for hurricane and flood protection in the Florida Keys.


If the past is any guide, the size of the 2022 WRDA could well grow if Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, the Army’s Chief of Engineers and Corps Commanding General, approves “chief’s reports” recommending additional projects in coming months.


One cautionary note is that, as in the past, project authorizations in WRDA bill are subject to annual appropriations.


Carper said in a statement, “This legislation builds on our historic infrastructure investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law [formally the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] and the past WRDA bills, authorizing projects in all 50 states.”


He added, “Importantly, our bill modernizes the way we approach water resources projects nationwide by ensuring climate and equity are priorities, not afterthoughts in the Corps’ work.”


John Doyle, special counsel with law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP, tells ENR that one important policy provision in the proposed WRDA is a change in the funding shares for river lock and dam projects. At present, 65% of a project’s cost is covered by general federal revenue and 35% from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.


The Senate draft would increase the general fund’s share to 75% and trim the trust fund’s share to 25%. It also would make those percentages permanent.


Doyle, a former senior Army civil works official, says industry favors the increased general-fund share because the inland waterway projects "produce national benefits across the whole reach of our economy."


The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has not yet introduced its version of a 2022 WRDA.


But Doyle says there is a lot of WRDA activity in that chamber. "It's just all behind the scenes," he says.