Water Associations Applaud Senate Approval of WRDA 2016

Last week, water groups praised the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee on passing the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA) by a strong, bipartisan vote of 19-1.

EPW Committee Chairman, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and ranking member Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) released a statement praising the bill. The legislation still needs to be voted on by the full Senate and the House of Representatives must pass its own version. The legislation appears on track to go to the Senate floor this summer, although Inhofe and Boxer did not repeat their earlier prediction that the bill would receive a floor vote before July 4.
On the drinking water side, AMWA applauded the bill for its inclusion of several new funding and oversight programs in response to the Flint, Michigan water crisis. It also offers emergency funding to help Flint replace lead pipes and plumbing components while also authorizing a new program to help communities nationwide pay for the replacement of lead service lines.

The main purpose of the 271-page bill (S. 2848) is to authorize a variety of public works, navigation and environmental restoration projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers while making relatively modest reforms to Corps’ policies and programs.  Committee leaders had earlier pledged to use the bill to advance several other proposals to shore up the nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure and followed through by adding a water infrastructure title largely made up of proposals that were first offered on Capitol Hill in response to the Flint water crisis.
Notable lead-related provisions in the bill include a $300 million grant program to help communities and low-income homeowners replace lead service lines and a $100 million program to help schools test their water for lead contamination.  The bill would deliver $100 million in Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) assistance targeted to Flint, as well as $70 million in credit subsidies that could be used to originate loans under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA).  Lawmakers expect the credit subsidies to translate into at least $700 million worth of WIFIA loans, which could be used on lead abatement projects or any other water infrastructure project eligible for WIFIA funding.  The bill includes a “sense of the Senate” statement that future WIFIA funding should come “in addition to robust funding” for the SRF programs.

Other sections of the bill would establish a water trust fund through the collection of voluntary fees paid by manufacturers, codify water facility security enhancements as an eligible use of DWSRF loan dollars and formally authorize EPA’s WaterSense program.  The bill would further require EPA to update its Financial Capability Assessment Framework guidance after factoring in new affordability considerations and inform communities of the option to develop integrated plans for compliance with clean water rules.

NACWA commended the bill as a bold, bipartisan bill that will also inject much needed investment into the nation’s clean water infrastructure and establish strong policy tools within the Clean Water Act (CWA) to aid municipal clean water utilities in meeting their environmental and public health goals.

“Many of the municipal clean water community’s legislative priorities from recent years are included in this bill, and NACWA believes it will go a long way towards helping ensure all Americans have access to clean and safe water,” said Adam Krantz, NACWA CEO. “NACWA thanks Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) for their leadership and for putting together such an ambitious and innovative WRDA package. NACWA is also thankful for the leadership and commitment on the part of other Senate champions who worked closely with Committee leaders to provide key provisions in the bill, including Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Sen. Corey Booker (D-N.J.), and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).”

On the clean water side, the bill would, among other things:

  • Establish, for the first time, a Clean Water Trust Fund;
  • Require a study on the potential role of low-income assistance programs to support full-cost pricing for water and sewer rates;
  • Establish a municipal ombudsman within the Environmental Protection Agency to advocate on behalf of municipalities;
  • Incentivize Integrated Planning and allow greater use of compliance schedules to achieve water quality standards;
  • Promote greater use of Green Infrastructure and other innovative technologies to management wet weather; and
  • Authorize $1.8 billion for the CWA’s sewer overflow control grant program.

WateReuse also praised passage of WRDA, which also includes key water reuse provisions. The legislation cites a Water Environment Federation (WEF) and WateReuse Association sponsored economic study that demonstrates the value of robust funding for State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs.

Some of the provisions of the bill that support increased water reuse include:

  • A WaterSense program to identify and promote water efficient products, buildings, etc., including reuse and recycling technologies;
  • An Innovative Water Technology Grant Program to accelerate innovate technologies, including reuse and recycling, to address water challenges;
  • A task force to draft national drought resilience guidelines, including provisions for reuse; and
  • Additional assistance for use of innovative technology in Clean and Drinking Water SRFs.

Although WRDA is intended to be biennial legislation, there have been gaps between measures.

“We are happy to see such an important bill making progress,” said WateReuse Association Executive Director Melissa Meeker. “While the bill isn’t perfect, we appreciate the committee’s continued support for reuse and water infrastructure during such a crucial period. We look forward to working with Congress and the Administration on the next steps.”

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