Waterways Infrastructure Bill Advances Through Congress – DTN

Photo: USACE

The next bill detailing investments for locks and dams and other inland waterways investments passed out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday.

The Water Resources Development Act of 2020 authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to begin construction on 34 pending water-infrastructure projects and authorizes 35 separate feasibility studies on other projects. Reflecting the value placed on waterway projects, the bipartisan bill passed out of committee unanimously. The bill now goes to the House floor.

A key provision in the WRDA bill involves funding changes that allows the full use of $10 billion in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to go for dredging ports and inland harbors. That language in the bill drew praise from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“Fully unlocking the (Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund) is an important step in helping raise the nation’s C-plus ports grade,” the civil engineers group stated.

Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, pointed to devastating flooding that hit Missouri and other Midwest states last year. The bill includes language to implement changes that will help non-federal levees improve flood protection. The bill also includes continuing the study on the Lower Missouri River Basin Flood Risk and Resiliency Plan. That study will identify flood-control projects on the Missouri River south of the Gavins Point, South Dakota, dam.

As part of provisions related to the Missouri River, the bill also prohibits the Corps from constructing additional “interception-rearing complexes” on the river.

For flood-prone communities, the bill also provides new authority for water projects to communities seeing repetitive flood challenges up to $15 million in federal cost-share, “and the Corps shall consider a community’s ability to pay,” states a summary on the bill.

The bill also changes the cost-share used for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for locks and dams, such as those along the Mississippi River. Under the bill, 65% of the costs for an inland waterways project would come from the general Treasury fund, and 35% would come from the trust fund for any inland waterway project that starts construction before 2027. This shifts the current funding mix, which is 50-50.

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The Waterways Council stated the funding shift is a top priority for the group.

“This bill is a step in the right direction for inland waterways infrastructure by adjusting the cost-share to 65%-35% for seven years,” said Tracy Zea, president and CEO of the Waterways Council Inc.

The bill also includes funds for up to 30 demonstration projects for the Corps to find beneficial reuse of dredge material from waterways. The Corps will also develop a demonstration project under the bill to detect, prevent and eliminate harmful algal blooms.

The American Society of Civil Engineers also detailed that the bill includes technical changes to dam rehabilitation programs and requires the Corps of Engineers to update planning guidance on sea-level rises.

Besides authorizing projects, the bill also establishes a process to “deauthorize” at least $10 billion in old, inactive projects.

For more details on the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, visit here.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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