This week, the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure introduced and passed the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020, H.R. 7575. The bill is expected to receive a full House vote the week of July 27. Earlier this spring, the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works passed their WRDA bill, the bipartisan America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020, S. 3591; it is unclear when the Senate will vote on this legislation. Contact your Representative and Senators now urging them to vote for H.R.7575 and S. 3591!
Our nation’s water resources systems are crucial to our economy, public safety, and the preservation and enhancement of our environmental resources. Our levees, dams, inland waterways, and ports protect hundreds of communities, support millions of American jobs, and generate trillions of dollars of economic activity. However, many of these infrastructure assets have reached the end of their design life, and the investment gap must be closed if we hope to both repair and modernize our water resources systems to be competitive in the 21st century. Passage of WRDA legislation is an important step in securing investments for these critical infrastructure systems.
The Water Resources Development Act of 2020 includes many provisions that ASCE supports, including:
- Technical changes to the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Program to allow for smoother implementation;
- Modernization of the cost-share change to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund;
- Full utilization of the $10 billion balance in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF);
- Requiring the USACE to update existing planning guidance related to sea level rise based on the best available, peer-reviewed science;
- Directing the USACE to consider nature-based features for flood and storm damage reduction projects and authorizes a study of its consideration in project planning; and
- Directing the USACE to complete an inventory of Corps facilities that are or could be contaminated by perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances.
Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund
Fully unlocking the HMTF is an important step to raise the nation’s “C+” ports grade. Therefore, ASCE is pleased that WRDA 2020 fully unlocks the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) by allowing for the fund’s $10 billion balance to be used for its intended purpose of dredging at our nation’s ports and inland harbors. It is expected to take five years of complete HMTF funding to dredge and restore channel depths and widths. Language in WRDA 2020 unlocking the HMTF balance, combined with a provision in the CARES Act ensuring an estimated $24.5 billion in future receipts are utilized ensures the long-term needs of our nation’s ports are provided for. .
Inland Waterways Trust Fund
ASCE supports updating the current Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) cost-share for construction and rehabilitation projects on our nation’s inland waterways systems. Currently, 50% of funding comes from general revenue and 50% from the IWTF. WRDA 2020 proposes a 65%-35% cost share. Previous WRDA bills have changed the cost-share for certain projects, which better leveraged funds and increased project efficiency; this has demonstrated that such a change will speed construction and expedite the completion of inland navigation projects and will help raise the nation’s “D” inland waterways grade.
High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Program
WRDA 2020 includes technical changes to the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation (HHPDR) program to better define technical terms and are designed to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) operate the program more smoothly. ASCE has been a long-time advocate for the HHPDR program, which was enacted in WRDA 2016, and supports these proposed changes. High hazard potential dams are those whose failure is anticipated to cause a loss of life. The HHPDR program provides federal grant assistance for the rehabilitation, repair, or removal of non-federal high hazard potential dams. As currently written, the program has run into issues with the clarity of eligibility requirements, as well as technical definitions. Full implementation and funding of this program is a critical solution to helping raise the nation’s “D” dams grade.
WRDA 2020 directs the USACE to complete an inventory of Corps Civil Works facilities that are or could be contaminated by PFAS, which are chemicals found in many household products and can have negative impacts on human health. ASCE strongly supports this provision, as well as continued research on emerging pathogens and pollutants and improved methods governing the disinfection of drinking water to protect public health from any harmful byproducts. Last year, ASCE submitted public comments to the EPA’s draft interim recommendations to address groundwater contaminated with PFAS.
Finally, ASCE supports the resilience and innovation provisions in WRDA 2020, including requiring the USACE to update existing planning guidance related to sea level rise based on the best available, peer-reviewed science. The bill also gives the USACE discretion to consider benefits accrued over time due to sea level rise. The bill directs the USACE to identify projects that could benefit from the addition of nature-based features and directs the agency to include in each flood reduction, hurricane, and storm damage reduction project feasibility study a summary of any nature-based features that were considered, as well as explanation if nature-based features are not recommend. As natural hazards become more frequent and severe, resilience measures and green infrastructure investments will save lives and dollars. In fact, the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) found that mitigation funding can save the nation $6 in future disaster costs for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation.
ASCE is encouraged that the House and Senate are both working towards bipartisan passage of these critical water resources infrastructure bills. ASCE will continue working with both Committees and Congress to ensure key investments are made in our nation’s dams, levees, ports, and inland waterways infrastructure systems. You can read a comprehensive summary of these bills here (House WRDA 2020) and here (Senate AWIA 2020), as well as the letters of supports ASCE sent to the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure and the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works.