Congress passes water resources bill

Both the US House of Representatives and the Senate have overwhelmingly approved the Water Resources Development Act.

US Congress has once again proved it can be bipartisan with both chambers overwhelmingly approving the Water Reform and Development Act of 2013 (WRDA) – comprehensive legislation aimed at improving the country’s water sector infrastructure by reducing red tape and facilitating project delivery.

The US House of Representatives passed the conference report to HR 3080, as the bill is also known, with a vote of 412-4, while the bill passed the Senate with a vote of 91-7.

WRDA authorises the US Army Corps of Engineers to develop, maintain, and support the country’s port and waterways infrastructure needs, and support effective and targeted flood protection and environmental restoration needs.

The bill reduces bureaucracy by setting hard deadlines on the time and cost of studies, does away with duplicative studies and requires concurrent reviews, and streamlines environmental reviews. It also de-authorises $18 billion of old, inactive projects that were authorised prior to WRDA 2007.

In addition, WRDA establishes a Water Infrastructure Public-Private Partnership (PPP; P3) programme and includes a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), which is closely modelled on the successful Transportation Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), the US Department of Transportation’s programme that provides financial support for transportation P3s.

“Specifically, the legislation establishes WIFIA in order to provide credit assistance for drinking water, wastewater and water resources infrastructure projects,” law firm Mayer Brown said in a legal update.

“WIFIA is designed to leverage federal funds by attracting substantial private or other non-federal investments to promote increased development of critical water infrastructure and to help speed construction of local projects,” Mayer Brown’s lawyers wrote.

The bill has been touted as the most policy- and reform-focused legislation of its kind in the last two decades. Until now, no such legislation had been passed since 2007.

“This legislation supports our water transportation network to keep our Nation competitive, improve the flow of commerce, and provide a foundation for job growth,” said Representative Bill Shuster, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

The job growth will come not only from an increase in the number of projects but also through the expansion of the Buy America requirements imposed on future Army Corps projects. “This provision in particular further defines this legislation as being about jobs – jobs to construct flood control projects, jobs to expand our harbours, jobs to make improvements to our waterways – and American jobs in the production of the iron and steel that goes into these works,” said Representative Nick Rahall, another of the bill’s co-sponsors.

The Senate first introduced a water reform bill in March 2013 and approved it in May of last year. The House version was introduced last September and easily passed in October.

A House-Senate Committee was established in late November 2013 to reconcile the two chambers’ water resources bills.

The bill has now been sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.