U.S. House of Representatives passes waterways bill

by Holly Demaree
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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The U.S. House of Representatives passed the 2016 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) on Sept. 28 by a 399 to 25 vote. The $5 billion bill will provide assistance for more frequent and thorough oversight of the U.S. inland waterways system and harbors.

The bill, which was introduced to the House in late May, revises or authorizes various U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water resources development projects, feasibility studies, and relationships with nonfederal project sponsors. It sets forth a process to deauthorize projects.

For harbor operation and maintenance, the bill requires:

  • utilization of priority funding for emerging harbors,
  • an increase in funding for commercial navigation costs beginning in fiscal year 2027, and
  • expansion of eligibility for donor port funding.
  • The bill reauthorizes estuary habitat restoration projects through fiscal year 2021.

To assist states, the bill allows:

  • water conservation measures for drought emergencies;
  • assistance to regional districts for flood damage reduction projects; and
  • combined funding for drainage basins, watersheds, or ecosystems in groups of states.

For flood management, the bill:

  • allows credits or reimbursements for discrete segments of a project before final completion,
  • authorizes the Corps of Engineers to accept nonfederal funds to revise reservoir operations and storage allocations for flood-risk and navigation, and
  • extends the period for nonfederal interests to receive a credit in lieu of a reimbursement for the estimated federal share of a flood damage reduction project under repealed provisions of the Water Resources Development Act of 1996.

"To maintain our competitive advantage against other countries, we must relentlessly make the case for continued investment in our water resources infrastructure," said Bobby Frederick, director of legislative affairs and public policy for the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA). "We appreciate the commitment from lawmakers to invest the resources and devote the policy attention these issues deserve through regular oversight and the biannual WRDA process. An efficient waterborne transportation system represents a critical difference-maker when it comes to growing the American economy, and is vitally important to U.S. agricultural exports and the positive contribution they make to the U.S. balance of trade."

The U.S. Senate passed its $10.6 billion WRDA bill on Sept. 15. Importantly, according to the NGFA, neither WRDA bill authorizes tolling or lockage fees along the inland waterways system.

Congress in 2014 enacted a sweeping and significant WRDA bill. The two previous bills were separated by seven years. But Congress now is committed to completing a bill every two years, the NGFA said. Both the House and Senate versions of WRDA 2016 continue reforms of the 2014 legislation, while also authorizing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works projects.

The Senate's bill authorizes 30 new water projects and includes $4.9 billion for drinking water infrastructure. The bill also extends the 10% set-aside for emerging harbors and ports and requires an annual increase in the funding authorized to be spent from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. 

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