Lame-Duck Look Ahead: Water Resources Development Act


With the midterm elections less than a week away, pressure continues to mount on Congress to pass several critical year-end pieces of legislation. Included in this slate will be the 2022 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). WRDA, the biennial legislation which authorizes water resources projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and makes key reforms to water infrastructure policy, has historically enjoyed bipartisan support. Because of this, WRDA has been passed into law every two years for well over a decade.

Current Status of the 2022 Water Resources Development Act

Both the House and Senate have each passed their own versions of WRDA on a bipartisan basis, with the House passing its version on June 8th and the Senate following suit on July 28th. Both versions of WRDA authorize new projects and demonstrate a commitment to resilience and improvements of key infrastructure systems. 

Since the passage of the Senate bill, both chambers have been in negotiations to iron out differences between the two bills.On August 12th, ASCE sent a letter to leadership on the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee expressing support for key provisions in each bill. Provisions in the House and Senate WRDA bills that are a priority for ASCE include:

  • Adjustment of the cost share formula for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund
  • Reauthorization of the National Levee Safety Program
  • Provisions that enhance climate resilience for repair and restoration projects and new reporting on disaster mitigation and infrastructure resilience
  • USACE recruiting and career development for jobs in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields
  • Establishment of a National Low-Head Dam Inventory

Key 2022 WRDA Provisions and ASCE Priorities

Both bills contain top policy priorities for ASCE. Included in the Senate bill is an adjustment to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) cost share formula for construction and rehabilitation projects. The Senate’s provision would reduce the cost share for IWTF projects from 35% to 25%, with the remaining cost covered by general funds.  ASCE strongly supports this provision, which is listed as a recommendation for raising the grade for Inland Waterways in the 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure

The House bill contains a three-year reauthorization of the National Levee Safety Program, which is set to expire at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2023. This critical program is tasked with establishing national levee safety guidelines, supporting the establishment of state levee safety programs, and providing technical assistance to states for effective levee management.

The House and Senate bills also contain several provisions to enhance climate resilience, support STEM career development, and improve dam safety. The House bill includes provisions to allow USACE to implement shore protection projects beyond original design levels, and it requires new federal reports on infrastructure resilience and disaster mitigation. The Senate’s version would allow emergency funds for hurricane recovery and coastal protection projects to be used to implement climate resilience measures, and it authorizes USACE to expand career development and recruitment in STEM fields.  

Additionally, both WRDA bills include the establishment of a new National Low-Head Dam Inventory. This would identify low-head dams, man-made structures that stretch across riverbanks and produce dangerous undetectable currents nationwide.  The Dams chapter of the 2021 report card highlights the danger these structures pose to the public.

Moving Toward WRDA Passage

While the Water Resources Development Act has often passed in Congress as a stand-alone bill, it has also been rolled into larger, high-priority bills that are viewed as “must pass legislation”. For example, in 2020, it passed at the end of the year as part of the omnibus appropriations bill that funded the Federal Government for FY 2021.  

This approach appears to be a likely route for WRDA in 2022 as well, and steps have already been taken toward attaching WRDA to another legislative vehicle. Last month, Senate EPW Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) included the Senate’s version of WRDA as a placeholder amendment to the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual legislation which sets budget toplines and new national security policies for the Department of Defense.  

The Senate is expected to pass its version of NDAA when it returns after election day and a final version agreed to by both chambers before the end of the 117th Congress on January 3, 2023. It is likely that this final version of NDAA will also contain WRDA language that has been negotiated and agreed upon by Senate EPW and House T&I. 

ASCE will continue to monitor the progress of the Water Resources Development Act throughout the lame-duck session. For more on the 2022 WRDA process and details on the House and Senate bills, we encourage you to read ASCE’s WRDA policy memorandum.

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