Inhofe Makes WRDA Push

Bill Called Critical for Infrastructure

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The country's inland waterway infrastructure is past its 50- to 60-year design life and at "risk of shutting down commerce in the heartland of America," Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of USACE Louisville District)

OMAHA (DTN) -- In a letter sent by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., to Senate leaders Wednesday, a group of 29 Republican senators made a push to bring the Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, to the floor of the Senate before the July 1 recess.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Inhofe asked senators to begin submitting amendments to the WRDA bill. A similar measure already was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, http://1.usa.gov/….

"In my nearly five decades in elected office, I have watched the impacts of Congress prioritizing and failing to prioritize our nation's water infrastructure," Inhofe said on the floor.

"In 1986, Congress enacted the cornerstone WRDA legislation that set cost-share standards and created the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and the Inland Water Ways Trust Fund. Following this bill, it was intended for Congress to reauthorize WRDA every two years, which Congress did throughout the late '80s and '90s. But then the trend came to a halt. Between 2007 until the 2014 WRDA bill, Congress went seven years without passing this critical bill, and our nation suffered from the inaction."

Inhofe said coastal ports are "grossly behind" in their deepening projects to accommodate post-Panamax vessels. Levees and flood walls are "inadequate" and well below the necessary level of protection required to keep people and infrastructure safe from flood waters, he said. In addition, Inhofe said inland waterway infrastructure is past its 50- to 60-year design life and at "risk of shutting down commerce in the heartland of America."

"Our ecosystems are degrading at an exponential rate and negatively impacting recreational and commercial businesses," he said, "and our water infrastructure has becomes so deplorable that communities don't have the necessary resources to provide clean, safe drinking water for their residents. This is not a partisan problem. This is a national crisis."

The Senate WRDA bill passed the Committee on Environment and Public Works on April 28 by a 19-1 vote.

In the letter, the GOP senators said the bill contains "substantive reforms" that will help the country compete in a global marketplace.

"This bill fulfills a commitment 91 senators made two years ago when they voted for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 conference report: 'It is the sense of Congress that, because the missions of the Corps of Engineers are so unique and benefit all individuals in the United States and because water resources development projects are critical to maintaining economic prosperity, national security, and environmental protection, Congress should consider a water resources bill not less than once every Congress,'" the letter stated.

The bill includes $4.5 billion for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' water resources projects, including $1.65 billion for two Corps flood-control projects in California, one in west Sacramento and the other in the American River watershed.

WRDA also includes $4.852 billion for drinking water and clean water infrastructure.

The previous bill passed in 2014 with bipartisan support. It authorized the Corps of Engineers to perform various water-related, water resources projects. However, funds were not authorized for drinking water and clean water.

Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., ranking member of the committee, introduced the 2016 WRDA bill.

Read the GOP letter to Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn here: http://1.usa.gov/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley