The latest version of the Water Resources Development Act is heading toward probable passage in the Senate, possibly as part of a larger appropriations bill. Capitol Hill sources say the House and Senate versions of the WRDA weren’t formally reconciled in a conference committee, but with another, less-used reconciliation procedure. There were reportedly last-minute ongoing negotiations about the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.
According to the fact sheet posted by the staff of the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, WRDA 2020 authorizes the construction of all 46 pending Corps Chief’s Reports received since the enactment of WRDA 2018. Chief’s Reports are the final recommendations to Congress by the Chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on rigorously studied water resources infrastructure priorities.
It authorizes 27 feasibility studies for water resources development projects, including those identified through the public review established by section 7001 of the WRDA of 2014.
It directs the Corps to complete six comprehensive river basin studies for the Great Lakes, the Lower Mississippi River, the Upper Mississippi River, the Lower Missouri River Basin, the Upper Missouri River and the Sacramento River.
On the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program, the fact sheet says only that the bill “invests additional federal resources for the construction of inland waterways projects to fund projects prioritized by inland users, including the Upper Ohio River navigation system and the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) for the Upper Mississippi River.”
One section authorizes the Corps to “accept and expend funds from non-federal interests to carry out modernization activities [on the inland waterways] or allow the non-federal interest to carry out such activities, subject to certain conditions.”
The WRDA 2020 also directs the Corps to deauthorize up to $10 billion in “outdated and antiquated” construction authorities, which the fact sheet claims is equivalent to the expected cost of the projects and authorities contained in WRDA 2020.
It includes a provision that was part of the House’s version that would change the federal cost-share for waterways infrastructure projects to 65 percent, with 35 percent local contribution, for a period of 10 years, after which the deal would sunset.
The waterways industry would have preferred a permanent 75-25 cost-share. That became less likely after COVID-19 hit, as trillions in federal relief dollars were appropriated in two separate relief packages. But even the 65-35 split is still an improvement. According to Waterways Council Inc., that cost-share change would result in roughly an extra $1 billion in infrastructure money over a 10-year period. On the waterways, at least, a billion dollars is still a lot of money.
In the meantime, a lot can happen in 10 years.