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Congress Passes Water Resources Infrastructure Bill

In late May, Congress passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014, a 10-year reauthorization bill to fund existing and new water infrastructure projects and programs conducted through the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The bicameral, bipartisan bill, which President Obama is expected to sign, provides $12.3 billion to develop, maintain, and support the country’s critical waterway systems, while supporting effective and targeted flood protection and environmental needs.

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Upon enactment, the WRRDA will streamline the project delivery process, promote fiscal responsibility, and strengthen the nation’s water transportation networks to promote competitiveness, prosperity, and economic growth. The bill also contains no earmarks and makes major reforms to increase transparency, accountability, and congressional oversight in reviewing and prioritizing future water resources development activities.

WRRDA enhances safety and protects communities with the use of best practices to address threats from floods, droughts, and storms. The legislation encourages the use of durable and sustainable materials and resilient construction techniques in carrying out activities related to water resources development projects. Such provisions include:

• Ensuring innovative methods are used to manage, reduce, treat, recapture, or reuse municipal stormwater—demonstrating methods to reduce nonpoint sources of pollution on a watershed basis, and increasing reliance on and use of such systems.

• Authorizing the Secretary of the Army to conduct postdisaster watershed assessments immediately following a disaster and implement limited flood control and ecosystem restoration projects identified in such assessments. This provision ensures the Corps of Engineers is better prepared for future extreme weather events by modernizing the approach used by the agency to respond to disasters such as flooding.

• Requiring the Secretary and the Department of the Interior to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of measures to respond to extreme weather and to mitigate risk associated with various stormwater-related disasters.

In addition to the reauthorization, WRRDA creates a new pilot program, the Water Infrastructure Finance Innovation Authority (WIFIA) program. Modeled after the low-interest loan program, the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovative Act (TIFIA), WIFIA provides $350 million over five years for water and waste-related infrastructure projects and activities of national significance (minimum project cost is $20 million). WIFIA also stipulates that at least 15 percent of the amounts made available must be used for communities that serve 25,000 or fewer people. For such communities, the minimum project amount will be lowered to $5 million. Flood damage reduction, environmental restoration, and waterway navigation projects will be carried out through the Army Corps of Engineers, while water and wastewater projects such as energy efficiency projects for water and wastewater utilities and repair, rehabilitation, and replacement of existing systems will be funded through the EPA. WIFIA’s goal is to leverage federal dollars by attracting private or other nonfederal investments to promote water infrastructure.

If you have any questions regarding WRRDA, please contact the ASLA Government Affairs team at governmentaffairs@asla.org.

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