‘A lot of ingredients’ in Senate WRDA Proposal

WATER POLICY: ‘A lot of ingredients’ in Senate WRDA proposal — Inhofe 

Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter

Published: Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will float a water resources authorization bill that deals as much with sewers and drinking water as it does with locks, dams and environmental restoration, according to a draft obtained by E&E Daily.

The Senate version of the 2016 Water Resources Development Act would give the Army Corps of Engineers approval to proceed with public works and restoration projects. It also incorporates the flurry of legislative proposals on lead in drinking water inspired by the water crisis in Flint, Mich., though the bill would not specifically authorize funding to help the city’s recovery.

“It’s a good balance,” said EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) yesterday of the 271-page bill. “A lot of ingredients in WRDA; it’s almost like the highway bill.”

Inhofe and EPW Committee ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) have said that they intend to carry their success in passing a bipartisan surface transportation reauthorization bill — known as the highway bill — to WRDA. The objective is significant for Boxer, who will retire at the end of the year, and Inhofe, who will be termed out as chairman of the EPW Committee.

The legislation authorizes the Army Corps to conduct 23 final feasibility studies, including for two billion-dollar environmental restoration projects: the nearly $2 billion Central Everglades Planning Project in Florida and the $1.4 billion Los Angeles River ecosystem restoration project in California.

Additional existing projects were authorized for modifications: the $149.8 million Turkey Creek Basin project in Kansas and Missouri, the $46 million Blue River Basin project in Missouri, the $622.5 million Picayune Strand project in Florida and the $31.2 million Ohio River Shoreline project in Kentucky.

The legislation also deviates from the Army Corps’ central civil works responsibilities, including measures to increase water supply and fix the country’s crumbling wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.

The bill would expand the definitions of “desalination” and “water recycling” for eligible projects for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, a pilot program that leverages Treasury bonds for infrastructure investment. It would also direct the Army Corps to prioritize research to reduce the environmental impacts of desalination and partner with countries with expertise in the technology, namely Israel.

The WRDA legislation also encompasses many of the legislative changes sought by lawmakers in the wake of the water crisis in Flint, where the community is unable to drink the lead-tainted water, a result of corrosive water eating away at lead service lines underground.

The bill includes a dedicated section to address lead in drinking water, creating a grant program for efforts to remove lead pipes across the country. The legislation also seeks to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to better notify residents whose tap water contains a high level of lead. The bill also includes a section to boost lead testing in school drinking water, as well as requirements for a regular follow-up on the ongoing internal investigations of wrongdoing in Flint.

The legislation would boost water conservation programs at U.S. EPA and support the integrated planning approach that communities can take with the agency to reach costly Clean Water Act compliance.

The package “supports strong investment in water and wastewater infrastructure and supports communities struggling to afford these investments,” said Pat Sinicropi, legislative director with the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. “It advances some very good initiatives and should hopefully be embraced by Members who care about investing in safe and clean water.”

The legislation also reauthorizes three major water cleanup initiatives: the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $300 million annually for five years, the Lake Tahoe restoration at $415 million over 10 years, and the Long Island restoration at at least $65 million per year for grants.

“We’re delighted that it got included, and we’re very excited about it,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

WRDA bills are supposed to be passed every two years, but Congress failed to pass the legislation for seven years between 2007 and 2014. The 2014 bill included a number of reforms to streamline the process for authorizing the projects.

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