Congress Approves Key Water Infrastructure Bill

Legislation authorizations include $3.7B for new Corps of Engineers civil works and $4.4B for EPA drinking-water program

Associated General Contractors, Engineering News Record
Corps Seabrook Floodgate Construction

On October 10, the Senate passed – on a vote of 99-1 – a water resources development bill that helps the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) maintain much of our nation’s water resources infrastructure.  The president is expected to sign the bill into law.

Engineering News Record reports the legislation authorizes $3.7 billion for new Corps of Engineers civil works and $4.4 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking-water program. But annual appropriations will be required before the Corps and local water agencies can let construction contracts.

While not a funding bill, the legislation allows Congress to eventually approve billions of dollars in funding for USACE Civil Works projects, including navigation (dredging, locks), flood control (levees), hydropower (dams), recreation (parks), and water supply. 

The bill also reauthorizes the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) for $50 million annually in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 and provides a new authorization, championed by the Associated General Contractors of America, for the funding of State Revolving Funds with WIFIA dollars – which can be used for drinking water and wastewater facility projects.

A new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) title authorizes $3.7 billion in federal funds for 12 Corps flood protection and other projects. Non-federal matching funds would bring the Corps projects' total to about $5.6 billion.

The new WRDA's largest single Corps allocation is $2.2 billion for flood protection and ecosystem restoration in Texas. But industry officials caution that all Corps projects have to compete for appropriations with many others authorized in past WRDAs (the Corps’ annual civil-works appropriations are only about $4.6 billion).

Other notable provisions in the bill include:

  • Reaffirming a federal commitment to State Revolving Funds
  • Authorization of capital grants for State Drinking Water Treatment Revolving Loan Funds
  • Establishing an innovative water infrastructure workforce development program
  • Authorization of feasibility studies and critical projects
  • Making publicly available USACE real estate assets as a means to help avoid sometimes lengthy Rivers and Harbors Act Section 408 approval processes, which delay Clean Water Act Section 404 permit issuance
  • Rehabilitation of USACE constructed dams

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