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Senate WRDA bill sails out of committee

May 22, 2024   Energy & Environment News

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a major water infrastructure bill Wednesday to address flooding and droughts and study environmental challenges across the nation.


This year’s Water Resources Development Act passed unanimously and will be named after Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the committee chair who is retiring after more than 20 years in the Senate.


“This bill is the product of an extensive bipartisan process to find agreement on as many of these projects as possible,” Carper said during the markup.


The bill would direct the Army Corps of Engineers to complete a range of studies and projects to reduce flood risks, manage coastal storms and restore ecosystems like the Chesapeake Bay.


It would also establish a pilot program for the Army Corps to modify dam operations in drought-stricken regions in order to conserve more water during wet years.


In addition, the bill would authorize the agency to carry out eight new projects. They include a navigation project to deepen and widen Baltimore Harbor; an initiative to elevate properties and reduce coastal flooding in Rhode Island; and a project to install levees and flood walls and restore ecosystems in northern Mississippi, just south of Memphis.


Members of Congress submitted over 1,200 requests for consideration in this year’s bill, which Congress has traditionally passed every two years.


Aside from new projects, the bill would direct the Army Corps to prioritize and finish previously established initiatives, including a flood risk management project in flood-prone Kanawha County, West Virginia, and multiple ecosystem restoration studies for the Florida Everglades.


Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), ranking member on the committee, introduced the amendment to rename the bill the “Thomas R. Carper Water Resources Development Act of 2024.”


“With this WRDA bill being perhaps the last major infrastructure bill that we will mark up during this committee, I think it’s fitting that it bear our chairman’s name,” Capito said.


Although the bill does not contain major policy changes, the Army Corps’ environmental and water initiatives have taken on added significance as climate change intensifies, said Mike Strachn, a senior adviser at the environmental permitting firm Dawson & Associates. The legislation now moves to the House for consideration.


“My hope is they’ll try to pass it before the Fourth of July recess, but that’s just a guess,” Strachn said in an interview.