The House and Senate have reached a bipartisan agreement on a water resources and development bill, the “Water Resources Reform and Development Act” (WRRDA), that will authorize projects to fix ailing locks and dams and improve ports and waterways. This legislation has been a priority of the agricultural community who depend upon the waterways and ports for a competitive advantage in the international marketplace. Over 60 percent of agricultural products use waterways and ports for transportation.
The American Soybean Association said, “This is a huge step forward to ensure the continued success of the soybean supply chain, and leaders in both the House and Senate deserve a great deal of credit for shepherding this bill through a challenging policymaking climate.” With the recent rail transportation problems, the National Grain and Feed Association said, “Rail service disruptions have magnified and reinforced the importance of the United States having an “all-of-the-above” transportation infrastructure policy that focuses on all modes - truck, rail, barge and vessel.”
The following are key items from the conference report according to the House Transportation Committee:
· Sets hard deadlines on the time and cost of studies
· Consolidates or eliminates duplicative or unnecessary studies and requires concurrent reviews
· Streamlines environmental reviews and improves coordination
· Deauthorizes $18 billion of old, inactive projects that were authorized prior to WRDA 2007
· More than fully offsets authorizations with deauthorizations
· Sunsets new authorizations to prevent future project backlogs
· Reduces the inventory of properties that are not needed for the missions of the Army Corps of Engineers.
· Maximizes the ability of non-federal interests to contribute their own funds to move studies and projects forward
· Expands the ability of non-federal interests to contribute funds to expedite the evaluation and processing of permits
· Establishes a Water Infrastructure Public-Private Partnership Program and new options to expand the local role in project implementation
· Creates innovative methods to invest in and finance water resources infrastructure and municipal drinking water and wastewater needs
· Strengthens dam and levee safety
· Improves Corps of Engineers responses to extreme weather events
· Encourages resilient construction techniques and the use of durable, sustainable, and innovative materials
· Authorizes needed investment in America's ports, strengthens ports that move the majority of the nation's commerce, and ensures equity for those ports that contribute the most to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund
· Supports underserved, emerging ports
· Reforms and preserves the Inland Waterways Trust Fund
· Authorizes priority water resources infrastructure improvements recommended to Congress by the Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers to improve navigation and commerce and address flood risk management, hurricane and storm damage risk reduction, and environmental restoration needs.