WRDA Bill Headed to President

Senate Clears New WRDA Bill With Project to Protect Texas Coastline

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Among the provisions in the Water Resources Development Act is language that permanently increases the federal government cost-share for inland waterway projects from 50% to 65%. That reduces the burden on the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The WRDA bill also approves a large project to help protect the Texas Gulf Coast from destructive hurricanes. (DTN file photo)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- As part of the massive spending bill for the military, the U.S. Senate on Thursday also gave final approval to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), sending the bill to President Joe Biden to sign.

The Senate voted 83-11 on the bill, which fused the two-year reauthorization of the $38 billion WRDA with the annual $850 defense spending bill. The House had voted last week 350-80 to send the massive package to the Senate.

The WRDA bill funds U.S. Army Corps of Engineer projects, including ports, locks and dams, and dredging operations.

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) noted the bill makes permanent a change in the cost-share formula for inland waterway projects that was temporarily added to the bill in 2020. The tweak lowers the matching funds for lock and dam projects from 50% to 35% for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

"American agriculture's competitive advantage depends upon the reliability and cost-effectiveness of the national transportation system. The permanent change in the waterways cost-share formula passed by Congress this week will expedite the modernization of U.S. locks and dams and provide certainty for agriculture and other waterways stakeholders," said NGFA President and CEO Mike Seyfert.

Perhaps just important is what isn't in the bill. After a year of political wrangling over dams on the Snake River, the bill does not include any language that would authorize the breach or removal of dams, a major export corridor for grain, especially wheat from Northwestern states. NCGA and the National Wheat Growers Association had both raised concerns about the political push to remove the four dams on the Snake River.

The WRDA bill does fund an extensive Texas coastal protection project, dubbed the "Ike Dike," that would be designed to protect the Texas Gulf Coast, and its major oil infrastructure, from future hurricanes. WRDA authorizes $21.4 billion of the total project cost of $34.4 billion with a non-federal match of nearly $13 billion expected.

In Michigan, Congress approved $3.2 billion for the Corps to build a new Soo Locks on the St. Marys River on the border with Canada.

Among other major projects was $2.4 billion as part of a $6.3 billion dredging project for ports in New Jersey and New York.

The Army Corps of Engineers will authorize up to $40 million on coastal and river restoration demonstration projects on the lower Mississippi River meant to help reduce the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The plan on the lower Mississippi would require state and local governments to come up with a list of projects over the next two years along with other stakeholders. Those projects would focus on reducing erosion and controlling sediment, restoring ecosystems and adjusting the channel on the river, as well as requiring a way to use dredging material. Projects would get priority if they improve water quality or reduce hypoxia in the lower part of the river and Gulf of Mexico.

Congress also wants the Corps to form a working group of experts and stakeholders to assess how to recharge aquifers around the country. The study would include non-federal organizations, including Native American tribes, to look at the feasibility of managed recharge for aquifers.

The WRDA bill has more than 300 separate provisions, including dozens of studies around the country for potential new Corps projects, and ending authorization for some projects that never got off the ground.

Congress also created a new cooperative agreement for Western states to examine water projects such as reservoirs.

The University of Missouri is approved to conduct an analysis to improve water management and flood resiliency for the lower Missouri River basin and Upper Mississippi River basin. The study also authorizes a hydrology report on the upper Mississippi River and Illinois River.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

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Chris Clayton