The House of Representatives has passed the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, to which the Water Resources Development Act for 2023 was attached, as expected. The NDAA also funds the Coast Guard and Maritime Administration. The bill passed the Democratic-controlled House with a strong bipartisan majority, 350 in favor to 80 votes against it. It included a provision ending the COVID vaccine mandate for active-duty service members within 30 days of enactment that both President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin oppose, but the bill was seen as must-pass because the continuity of service members’ pay and benefits would be disrupted otherwise.
The bill now goes to the Senate, before heading to Biden for his signature.
In announcing the final version of WRDA, Rep. Peter DeFazio, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said, “Today, Congress continues to deliver on its commitment to strengthening America’s infrastructure and economy by investing in our ports, harbors and inland waterways. The Water Resources Development Act of 2022 will help ease supply chain issues and make communities across the country more resilient in the face of extreme weather. Just as critical, WRDA 2022 will help local communities struggling to afford critical water resources projects, while bringing state, local and tribal leaders to the table to execute projects equitably.”
The National Waterways Conference welcomed the final version of this year’s WRDA. It cited staff reports that the measure authorizes 25 projects that have completed technical reviews and are recommended through the Chief’s Report and includes six modifications to previously authorized projects, as well as 94 new feasibility studies.
According to the NWC, the bill also expands the scope of feasibility studies by allowing the Corps, at the request of a non-federal interest, to formulate project study alternatives that reduce comprehensive flood risk or hurricane and storm damage risk.
Several provisions loosen language regarding what may be authorized as flood repairs, giving the Corps more flexibility in spending flood-response money. The WRDA broadens some language authorizing shoreline repairs so that they don’t have to be for flood prevention only, adds language to flood-repair provisions so that repairs can address damage from storms and hurricanes not strictly related to floods and authorizes other repairs that may “improve the long-term viability of the community” as well as mitigating floods.
In response to inflation pressures, the bill gives the Secretary of the Army temporary authority to continue with water resource projects that may exceed the cost cap, without requiring new authorization, as long as both the Environment and Public Works (Senate) and Transportation and Infrastructure (House) committees are notified.
Additionally, the measure instructs the Corps to set up a pilot program to award combined operations and maintenance and construction dredging contracts of up to five years for inland waterways.
Most importantly, according to the NWC, the bill makes permanent the existing cost-share of 65 percent general fund of the U.S. Treasury and 35 percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, a provision that was slated to expire in 2030.