I rise today to express urgency to often-neglected issues surrounding our nation’s water resources and water infrastructure.
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.
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. As a result:
- Our coastal ports are grossly behind in their deepening projects to accommodate post-Panamax vessels;
- Our levees and flood walls are inadequate and well-below the necessary level of protection required to keep people and infrastructure safe from flood waters;
- Our inland waterway infrastructure is past their 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; 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 last WRDA took on major reforms, and now two years later, it’s time for another WRDA to help clear out the logjam of Corps projects and address concerns with aging infrastructure.
Too often we take for granted how water resources and water infrastructure projects affect our daily lives.
Some will argue, unlike the Highway Bill, the WRDA bill is not considered a “must-pass bill” – there is no shutdown of a program. However, I would argue that WRDA is a must pass bill.
Without WRDA –
- The 27 Chief’s Reports included in the bill – for port deepening, flood protection, and ecosystem restoration, will get put back on the shelf and their construction will be delayed even further;
- Reforms to outdated Corps policy won’t be enacted, leaving local sponsors and private entities without the tools they need to move their projects forward;
- Our aging infrastructure will shut down due to overdue maintenance and repairs, costing shippers and users millions in unwarranted losses; and
- Critical programs that would provide much-needed clean drinking water infrastructure will get left behind while communities struggle to update their systems to provide a safe daily necessity.
I have a letter here addressed to Leader McConnell and Majority Whip Cornyn with 29 signatures from my fellow Republicans asking that leadership bring WRDA 2016 to the floor in the next few weeks.
I know my colleague Senator Graham supports WRDA. He’s been fighting to authorize the deepening of Charleston Harbor for several years now.
Any further delay in his project will cause unwarranted economic loss to his state and the nation as we prepare for the increased use of post-Panamax vessels in the global supply chain.
The same can be said for several of my other colleagues who have a vested interest in the projects or reforms included in this bill –
- Port deepening projects in Florida, Alaska, Maine, and Texas would better position those states to capitalize on increased import and export projections over the next 20 years;
- Flood protection in Kansas and Missouri would provide communities in their state the necessary assurance that homes and businesses won’t be flooded by the next storm.
- Ecosystem restoration projects in Florida, Illinois, and Wisconsin would stimulate recreational and commercial economies otherwise left degraded.
Senators Vitter and Cassidy also support the passage of WRDA. Their state has experienced more catastrophic disaster from storms and flooding in the past decade than any other state. They too have a project proposed for flood protection that had been studied for nearly 40 years.
If this project had been prioritized and constructed in the early 2000s, St. John Parish and the surrounding communities would not have endured over $600M in damages from Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
And that’s just a snapshot of what’s been included in the WRDA bill.
Water resource and water infrastructure projects are integral to our everyday lives –
- Levees that protect communities from flood waters;
- Reservoirs and related infrastructure that provide water for municipal and industrial use;
- Ports and waterways that move American goods and services to the global marketplace.
In addition to the traditional water resources projects and provisions that have dominated WRDA bills in the past, Senator Boxer and I decided to go one step further and address the pressing water infrastructure crisis facing this nation.
As we put this bill together and held hearings on critical water resources and infrastructure issues, we heard how communities are struggling to meet ever-growing Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act mandates and need flexibility in addition to targeted assistance.
WRDA 2016 provides federal assistance to communities facing affordability concerns.
As our witness representing Rural Water – Mr. Robert Moore from Madill, Oklahoma – recommended, we targeted the grant assistance program, addressing issues of greatest necessity. These programs include:
- Assistance for small and disadvantaged communities with a priority for underserved communities.
- Assistance for lead service line replacement with a priority for disadvantaged communities; and
- Assistance to address sewer overflows.
We have also empowered local communities to meet EPA mandates on a schedule that is doable and affordable for the community and that allows the community to prioritize addressing the greatest health threats first.
In addition to providing disaster relief for Flint, Michigan, we also have capitalized the new Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act program, which can provide secured loans for water and wastewater infrastructure anywhere there is an urgent need.
The $70 million provided in the bill for this new program can deliver as much as $4.2 billion in secured loans – a fiscally responsible way to partner with the states and provide federal assistance.
We heard how new technologies can help address drought and other water supply needs – like the issues we face on the Red River in Oklahoma.
S. 2848 addresses this issue by promoting new technologies and the transfer of desalination technologies from other countries facing the same problems.
Passing WRDA 2016 would guarantee the Federal Government’s principle commitment to resilient water resources and water infrastructure and strong commerce, and also allow local governments and private investment to fill any funding gaps needed to ensure important projects are completed in a timely and cost-effective manner.
Passing this legislation is a statement to the American people that Congress can come together and pass a bill that is great for jobs, great for the economy and great for local communities who feel like they’ve been left behind.
From the onset, Senator Boxer and I have worked closely with Senate Republicans and Democrats, to make sure that all Members were heard, and no one was left behind.
We’ve done this successfully on several occasions – the FAST Act, TSCA – and we’ve delivered for every member of this body. We’ve done the same for the WRDA bill.
We listened to your concerns, we engaged your constituents and projects sponsors in your respective states, as well as the users of our waterways transportation infrastructure.
The message was clear and uniform – get back to regular order and build upon the reforms in WRRDA 2014 to empower the Army Corps and local sponsors to help keep our water resources infrastructure strong and functioning.
Let me close by saying that not passing this bill will result in nearly $6 billion in navigation and flood control projects to be unnecessarily delayed or never constructed. There will also be –
- No critical reforms to Army Corps of Engineers policy;
- No new essential affordability reforms for communities Clean Water infrastructure mandates;
- No new assistance for innovative approaches to Clean Water and Drinking Water needs, to address drought and water supply issues;
- No resolution to the national lead emergencies like Flint, Michigan;
- No dam rehabilitation program; and
- No new technical assistance for small treatment works.
Today, I ask Leadership and my fellow Republicans, let’s seize this valuable opportunity and bring WRDA 2016 to the floor before the July recess. Time is of the essence.
We are putting a manager’s amendment together now and I encourage all members to bring me or Barbara their concerns. Our staffs stand ready to process any outstanding issues and amendments you may have.
Senator Boxer and I are very proud of this bipartisan, proactive legislation.
Not only will WRDA 2016 put shovels in the ground and continue to grow the economy – it will also strengthens our nation’s faith in Congress that we can and will come together in a bipartisan fashion for strong infrastructure, world-class navigation and port complexes, and the necessary investments in our communities to ensure clean, affordable drinking water systems.
And we are both committed to doing the right thing, and that starts with passing WRDA 2016.