The House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure has released its version of WRDA16. The Committee will debate and act on the measure this Wednesday and we will have a more complete report on the House WRDA bill following that meeting. You can watch this “markup” session yourself by going here to get the streaming link.
This WaterTank post is similar to one sent to a special list of those interested in following WRDA16 and it makes reference to previous posts sent only to that list. If you want to be added to the list of those who get my occasional updates on WRDA16, please email me.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee already approved its version of WRDA with significantly different provisions. It’s expected to go to the Senate floor in June. Both bills authorize about two dozen new water resources projects, but they each contain policy provisions. The House bill is a sparser measure than the Senate’s. We sent you the link to its text and summary last week, but here is an analysis of a few provisions I think are most important.
The bill authorizes more than two dozen water resources projects in categories denoted as Navigation, Flood Risk Management, Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction, Ecosystem Restoration, Flood Risk Management and Ecosystem Restoration; Flood Risk Management, Ecosystem Restoration and Recreation, and Ecosystem Restoration and Recreation. It also deauthorizes five projects. If you are interested in which projects are on all or any part of the list, please email me. In the shore protection category of Flood Risk Management and Storm Damage Risk Reduction, there are six projects. Of special interest to this observer is the Committee’s apparent aversion to the word “beach”. The California project known as Solana Beach-Encinitas is renamed San Diego County. Similarly, Edisto Beach is renamed Colleton County. I haven’t seen that kind of renaming before in a WRDA bill, but then I always have something new to learn.
The draft bill requires the Corps to do an assessment of the structural condition of all Federal breakwaters and jetties protecting coastal and inland harbors to determine their structural condition and any threats to navigation. It also tries to increase the funding available from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.
One of the bill’s more important provisions would set up a program of 10 pilot projects to test doing beneficial use of sand without being limited by the least cost standard. It also creates Regional Beneficial Use Teams headed by the relevant Corps Divisions and consisting of representatives of State and local governments and non-Corps Federal agencies in addition to Corps division and district personnel. I would be interested in your thoughts about this provision. As always, all correspondence is confidential and not circulated or attributed in any way.
There’s a provision to authorize non-Federal public and commercial entities to remove sediment from behind up to 10 Corps dams. The entity removing the sediment is authorized to “retain, use, recycle, sell or otherwise dispose of any sediment removed….” What follows is opinion:
There is indeed a problem of sediment buildup behind Corps dams, and like all other aspects of the Corps’ civil works program, there isn’t enough money to get it out. Also, I have believed for the last few years that one of the best sources of private funding for Corps projects will be found in the commercial uses of sediment. To that extent, this provision is a significant step in the right direction as far as inland flood control projects with reservoirs are concerned. In some areas, however, primarily the West Coast, flood control dams have cut off the supply of sand that used to come naturally to the coast. We have to hope that we don’t wind up with a commercial entity offering to see sand from Corps reservoirs back to the Corps for shore protection. More proactively, there’s a need for the Corps to cooperate with State and local governments to make sure that sand trapped behind its dams gets used in ways that comport with the natural flow of sand that occurred prior to the erection of the dam.
Non-Federal sponsors of environmental protection and aquatic ecosystem restoration projects under Section 206 of WRDA 1996 or Section 1135 of WRDA 1986 would be relieved of any obligation to operate and maintain the non-structural and non-mechanical components of the project if the 50-year period for which it was authorized or the purpose of the project has been achieved under conditions to be determined by Corps guidance.
The battle between certain Members of Congress and the private dredging industry is continued with a provision requiring a study of the costs and benefits of expanding, reducing, or maintaining the current federally-owned hopper dredge fleet. This study is to be done by the General Accountability Office, an arm of Congress.
In a similar fashion to the Senate Committee’s WRDA bill, the House bill expands the Planning Assistance to the States program to groups of states. In an effort to repair one of the unintended consequences of a 3x3x3 provision in WRRDA14 that eliminated the reconnaissance phase, the bill would enable a non-Federal sponsor to get a preliminary analysis of the proposed costs and benefits of a proposed project before having to commit to a cost-sharing agreement. That’s what the Reconnaissance Study phase did before it was eliminated in an effort to make sure all studies got done in 3 years or less.
WRRDA14 contained a number of provisions whose impacts were dependent on being funded or were dead on arrival because they violated Administration policies. Given the fact that Congress cannot earmark funding, even for purposes that it has authorized, these efforts are largely in vain. The day may well come when Congress takes back the power it voluntarily gave away, but this sunrise is not one likely to come for many moons (sorry about that). Until that day, the committee draft contains another provision telling the Administration that it doesn’t want it to withhold funding or delay any Post-Authorization Change Report (a GRR, LRR, or any report that “recommends the modification of an authorized water resources development project”). This would include Section 902 reports on projects that are expected to exceed their authorized cost level.
That’s as far as I’ll go with today’s report, but once the House committee has finished its work and issued a formal report, I will have more to send your way.
Don’t forget to email me if you want to get continued updates on WRDA16.