Legislative Update: Courtesy of National Waterways Conference
Dec. 7, 2022
You will never guess what was unveiled today on the U.S. House of Representatives Rule’s Committee website—compromise language for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)! As expected, the language will be in National Defense Authorization Act, an annual authorization bill for defense-related programs and policies. The House Rules Committee expects to meet today at 11:30am on the amended Senate NDAA language (which contains a placeholder for WRDA). The intent is for the House to offer a manager’s amendment with WRDA 2022 compromise language and vote on the amended NDAA/WRDA language TODAY before sending the revised bill back to the Senate for consideration.
According to staff, the measure authorizes 25 projects that have completed technical reviews and are recommended through the Chief’s Report. Additionally, there are 6 modifications to previously authorized projects. Furthermore, the bill includes 94 new feasibility studies and 12 studies of modifications and complete modifications to the scope of five authorized feasibility studies. The bill also expands the scope of feasibility studies by allowing the Corps, at the request of the non-federal interest, to formulate project study alternatives that reduce comprehensive flood risk or hurricane and storm damage risk, or those projects that address water supply or conservation. Most notably, the provision makes permanent the existing cost-share inland waterways construction and projects.
While NWC is currently analyzing the bill, we can offer an initial high-level summary of some, but not all, of the provisions. In the coming days, NWC will be updating our WRDA 2022 chart based on the new language.
- Continuation of construction: Gives secretary temporary authority to continue with water resource projects that may exceed the cost cap, without requiring new authorization, as long as both the EPW and T&I committee are notified.
- Emergency response to natural disasters. Authorizes the Secretary to repair or restore a hurricane or shore protection project or structure beyond the original design level of the project to increase resiliency.
- Floodplain management services: Allows the Corps to identify areas subject to flooding due to debris and instructs the agency to reach out to states and non-federal interests about opportunities to partner with the Corps on these hazards.
- Funding to process Sec. 214 mitigation permits: include the evaluation of a mitigation bank instrument in the expedited review of a qualifying permit.
- Inland Waterways—The bill makes permanent the existing cost share of 65% General Fund of the U.S. Treasury and 35% from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. This provision was slated to expire in 2030. Additionally, the measure instructs USACE to set up a pilot program to award combined operations and maintenance and construction dredging contracts of up to five years for inland waterways.
- Rehabilitation of pump stations: Allows USACE to rehabilitate pump stations if they are integral to the Corps broader mission for flood or coastal storm risk management. Priority will be given to economically disadvantaged communities in rural and urban areas.
- Reports and studies: The legislation authorities a number of reports from coastal flooding mitigation; socially and economically disadvantaged business concerns; solar energy opportunities; the value of open space, recreation areas and habitat; corrosion prevention activities; recommendations on dredge capacity, reservoir sedimentation assessment and easements.
- Sets up committees under the ASACW’s office: Instructs the Secretary to set up several committees to advise the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, including but not limited to, a Non-Federal Interest (NFI) Advisory Committee to give advice and recommendations on water resource development projects, programs, and other assistance; a Western Water Cooperative Committee to advise on water resource projects in western states to identify opportunities to avoid or minimize conflicts between operations of those projects and water rights and water laws of those states; and a Tribal and Economically Disadvantaged Communities Advisory Committee to advise the Secretary on tribal and disadvantaged communities issues in both rural and urban areas.
- Shoreline and riverbank protection and restoration mission. This provision gives the Corps to carry out projects for the protection and restoration of coastal shorelines and riverbanks under Sec. 212 of WRDA 1999 and authorizes the Secretary to cover the first $200,000 to study the costs of those projects.
- Technical assistance for levee inspections. Under the language, at a non-federal interest’s request, USACE shall conduct a levee assessment that looks at flooding and failure risk and potential opportunities to modify the levee system.
- Treatment of credit between projects: For projects with multiple non-federal sponsors, this provision allows a credit to be applied to the non-federal share of a study or project until Dec. 31, 2028.
- Temporary relocation assistance pilot program: pilot program to assess the benefits of instituting temporary relocation assistance in the NFS cost share for projects that use nonstructural measures.
- Underserved community harbors: Sets up additional projects, including dredging for underserved community harbors and instructs the Secretary to develop criteria for evaluation and ranking of maintenance dredging requirements for small, remote and subsistence harbors.
- Use of other federal funds: Allows the non-federal interest under the continuing authorities program to use funds from other federal agencies to satisfy the non-federal share of the project.
- Western Infrastructure Study: The bill instructs the ASACW to undertake an in-depth study in USACE’s South Pacific Division on additional measures (including natural or nature-based features) that can be undertaken at or upstream of covered reservoirs to mitigation against droughts or floods, increase water supply or for aquatic restoration.