Congress Discusses New Authorization for Water Resources Projects

The authorizing committees in both the House and Senate are taking steps toward developing a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in 2016, which provides the authorization for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers activities undertaken to meet the demands of maintaining navigable channels, reducing flood and storm damage, and restoring aquatic ecosystems throughout the country. Once a biennial affair, only two WRDA authorizations have been enacted in the last 14 years.  The 2014 bill marked the first WRDA passage in seven years.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee continued discussions of the proposed legislation yesterday, hearing testimony from the chief of engineers, Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy during a 90-minute hearing.  

In his opening statement, Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) stated that under a new process established in the 2014 WRDA, state and local governments have submitted 172 requests for studies that can lead to new water resource projects or modifications to existing projects. According to Inhofe, the Corps determined that 49 of these requests met the criteria established in WRDA and has sent those study requests to Congress for review. These projects and studies will form the foundation of the 2016 WRDA if submitted by a Senator.

Chairman Inhofe also expressed his support for developing policies to speed up decisions on civil works projects at the agency. He is exploring developing language which would require the agency to act on these proposals more quickly.  

Similar concerns arose with lawmakers during a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting last month. Citing a 40-year ongoing levee project in Louisiana, Rep. Garrett Graves (R-La) stated, "Obviously, if this scenario was in the private sector, that construction company would have been shut down, appropriately, many, many decades ago."

Both Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-Ca) have expressed their optimism for moving a new WRDA bill through the committee this spring.  “Senator Boxer and I are committed to working together to find solutions where we can,” Chairman Inhofe stated. “That is why I am confident that we move a bill through committee this spring and pass a WRDA in 2016.”