Congress Moves Forward with WRDA 2024

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This week, the House of Representatives took a big step towards passing its biennial water resources infrastructure bill.  The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2024 (H.R. 8812) was formally introduced on Tuesday, and was marked up by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday.  The bill authorizes 12 new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) water resources projects and 159 project feasibility studies.  These projects and studies pertain to multiple efforts to improve the nation’s water resources infrastructure, including navigation projects, hurricane and storm damage risk reduction, flood risk management, and ecosystem restoration.

In addition to projects and feasibility studies, H.R. 8812 includes several key policy changes.  Most notably, the bill includes a reauthorization of the National Dam Safety Program, a top legislative priority for ASCE.  The program’s legislative authority officially expired on September 30th of last year.  This provision includes language from two bills supported by ASCE and led by Representatives Chuck Edwards (R-NC) and Ann Kuster (D-NH).  H.R. 5014– the National Dam Safety Program Reauthorization Act, and H.R. 6931– the NDSP Amendment Act together contain provisions that extend the National Dam Safety Program through 2028, ease restrictions on the amount of funds states can receive in state assistance grants, and improve access to the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Grant Program- which provides competitive grants for rehabilitation projects for dams which pose the greatest risk to downstream communities.  It also requires incorporation of low-head dams into the National Inventory of Dams.  The 2022 WRDA law officially authorized the creation of a national inventory of low-head dams, which are smaller, river spanning structures that produce dangerous and undetectable currents and pose a risk to public safety.

The House WRDA bill also incorporates policy pertaining to the nation’s inland waterways.  It includes the Inland Waterways Regional Dredge Pilot Program, which was created in WRDA 2022, and focuses on projects that improve navigation reliability and increase freight capacity.  It would also authorize a new national coastal mapping program to support USACE navigation, flood risk management, environmental restoration, and emergency operations missions.

Additionally, the House’s WRDA bill includes an extension of the National Levee Safety Program through 2033.  In 2022, WRDA officially reauthorized the program through 2028, allowing it to continue to take shape and build a structure to support states in monitoring and improving the safety of the nation’s levee systems.  During the House markup, an amendment was considered that would have stripped this provision from the bill, but it was ultimately defeated and not included.

The House’s action follows the Senate’s mark-up of its WRDA 2024 bill on May 22nd.  The Senate’s bill (S. 4367), takes a more slimmed-down approach by authorizing fewer projects and feasibility studies, and making fewer policy changes.  The Senate WRDA bill did not include reauthorization of the National Dam Safety Program or address the low-head dam inventory.  However, the committee did vote to advance a separate bill (S. 4359) which reauhtorizes the National Dam Safety Program, and extends the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Grant program, through 2029.

The Senate bill did not include changes to the Inland Waterways Regional Dredge Pilot Program or the creation of a national coastal mapping program, both of which were included in the House bill.  The Senate bill does, however, include an adjustment of the federal cost share for Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) projects, proposing a requirement that only 25 percent of project costs come from the IWTF and the rest be drawn from the General Fund.  This adjustment was recommended in the Inland Waterways chapter of ASCE’s 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.  This provision was also included in the Senate’s 2022 WRDA bill, but was ultimately not included in the final law.  The 2022 WRDA law did, however, permanently extend the current 65-35 percent cost share formula.

With the completion of committee markups, the House and Senate will next vote on final passage of their respective WRDA bills.  This will be followed by negotiations by a House-Senate conference committee to iron out differences between the two bills and produce an agreement to be passed and signed into law later this year.  Should Congress pass a final WRDA agreement this year, it would mark the sixth consecutive time that WRDA has passed on its intended biennial schedule.  This will provide greater certainty to USACE as it moves forward with project planning and development, and ensure that consistent efforts are continually made to improve the nation’s water resources infrastructure.

ASCE will continue to monitor developments with the 2024 Water Resources Development Act.  Please visit our website to view updates to ASCE’s advocacy efforts, including upcoming policy memos, support letters, and other key updates over the course of the coming weeks.

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