President Obama last week signed a $12.3 billion water resources bill that will modernize critical water infrastructure while also promoting economic growth and job creation. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) authorizes 34 new Army Corps projects, establishes a new loan financing program, strengthens levee and dam safety programs and codifies new reforms to the project review process. There are a number of significant victories for ASCE and the nation’s infrastructure. The legislation is the first major water resources bill in seven years and is being applauded by organizations across the spectrum.
ASCE’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure graded the nation’s ports a C, inland waterways a D-, dams a D, and levees a D-. ASCE lobbied Congress to pass the bill and is particularly supportive of the Levee Safety Initiative and The National Dam Safety Program. The national Levee Safety Initiative will promote consistent safety standards, create levee safety guidelines and provide funding assistance to states for establishing participating levee safety programs. WRRDA authorizes $395 million to support levee safety initiatives and $70 million over five years for dam safety. Once funded, these programs will provide critical resources necessary to improve the safety of the nation’s dams and levees.
The bill also solves long standing expenditure issues in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). WRRDA authorizes that 100% of funds collected by the HMTF to be allocated to the intended purpose (dredging the nation’s ports and harbors) by 2025. Previously only a fraction of funds collected by the fund were used to support port and harbor programs. The bill also allocates 10% of HMTF expenditure for emerging harbors.
WRRDA makes a number of changes to the popular Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and creates a new water financing pilot program similar to TIFIA for surface transportation projects. The new SRF provisions provide loan flexibility, lower interest rates and extended repayment periods of 30 years. SRF funds may also now be used to implement watershed plans, water conservation, stormwater recapture, and for technical assistance to small and medium treatment works. A significant win for the engineering community is the requirement for the use of the Brooks Act qualifications based selection for A/E services or an equivalent State qualifications-based requirement (as determined by the Governor of the State when using SRF fund). ASCE has worked to include this provision for over 10 years.
The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) is intended to increase flexibility for non-federal interests and leverages private sector investments to increase the effect of federal funding. The new WIFIA program can be used for traditional clean water and drinking water project, and also will provide assistance to projects with the goal of reducing flood damage; restoring aquatic ecosystems; improving inland and intracoastal waterway navigation systems.
Finally, the bill includes new reforms at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that codifies a new internal expedited project delivery process that limits feasibility studies to 3 years at a cost of no more than $3 million in federal funding.
ASCE applauds Congress for their bipartisan work passing WRRDA. We look forward to working with appropriators to ensure these programs and projects are properly funded.