EPA resiliency program included in WRDA bill

flooded treatment plant

A flooded treatment plant in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Last week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a plan to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act (S. 2800). The WRDA legislation contains a number of drinking water policy reforms, including one that could authorize a new program under the U.S. EPA that would offer competitive grant assistance to communities to offset the cost of water and wastewater projects undertaken to improve the sustainability of infrastructure.

Specifically, the measure would authorize $25 million over two years for a new Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act program at EPA. The program would offer grants to communities to offset the cost of projects undertaken to improve the resilience to changing hydrologic conditions and extreme weather. Projects ranging from water efficiency, new water supply development, infrastructure relocation and green infrastructure initiatives, would be eligible for assistance.

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) was instrumental in pushing for the measures, which were originally introduced in a separate bill introduced in the House of Representatives in April, H.R. 5596. AMWA worked closely with its sponsor, Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), to prepare the bill’s proposal in the 115th Congress. It was also supported by Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) who co-sponsored H.R. 5596, the first time a Republican member of Congress has formally endorsed this utility adaptation legislation.

The resiliency provision would also expand eligibility to projects sponsored by interstate and intermunicipal organizations, allowing funds to be used on projects that respond to rising sea levels, increasing the maximum federal project cost share to 75 percent, and ensuring that a private water system that receives funding only uses it on a project that has the support of the affected local government.

AMWA had promoted various iterations of the water utility resilience legislation on Capitol Hill for a number of years. AMWA and 10 other water and infrastructure sector organizations supported the measure, noting that it will allow communities to “build resiliency into their infrastructure today, while helping ensure uninterrupted water and wastewater service for decades to come.”

In addition to the Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act measure, other provisions in the WRDA legislation approved last week include:

  • Reauthorizing the existing Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program for two years, through 2021;
  • Formally authorizing EPA’s WaterSense program;
  • Permanently applying “Buy American” iron and steel requirements to projects funded in whole or in part by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund;
  • Authorizing states to use up to 10 percent of their Drinking Water State Revolving Fund capitalization grants to implement source water protection plans;
  • Requiring communities with populations of greater than 10,000 people to comply with a qualification-based selection process for architectural and engineering services established by the Brooks Act for projects using DWSRF funds (Congress imposed a similar requirement for CWSRF-funded projects in 2014); and
  • Establishing a new competitive grant program at EPA to promote innovative workforce development for the water utility sector.

The version of WRDA legislation approved by a House committee last week includes none of these provisions, so a conference committee will likely negotiate their place in a final WRDA bill later this year.

Source: AMWA

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