Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released the $9 billion Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The bipartisan bill would authorize 25 new Army Corps projects, while creating policy changes like requiring the corps to update its reservoir operations, and establishing new programs such as grants for innovative water technologies. The Committee plans to mark up the legislation this Thursday (4/28).
Why is this of interest Utah, the Chamber and the committee?
As the legislation is quite exhaustive here are a few spots of interest to the Chamber.
New Precedent for Federal Role in Municipal Water Infrastructure:
As Utah faces some major financial hurdles in repair/replace of local municipal water infrastructure, a standoff in the Senate that’s pitted Michigan Democrats Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters against Utah’s own Sen. Mike Lee on providing federal drinking water infrastructure assistance to Flint and other areas may turn the focus now toward using an upcoming Water Resources Development Act as a vehicle for the Flint package. (You can see Sen. Lee’s statement on the issue here.) But such a move to focus on municipal drinking water would be a major change for WRDA, which is usually a popular package of Army Corps of Engineers dam, levee and ports projects.
After ricocheting around the Senate for months, a deal to help Flint, Mich. and other cities with aging and failing water distribution systems was written into the Water Resources Development Act unveiled by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. We’ll be watching this aspect of the bill very closely, as this would be an significant expansion of the federal role and commitment to local water infrastructure.
Encouraging Innovative Partnerships:
The Chamber has been hyper-focused on advancing performance-based infrastructure, as a new tool to address many infrastructure challenges including water. We’ll be looking to advance legislation that was tabled for needed study (SB267) with Sen. Ralph Okerlund that would allow for local political subdivisions to explore these partnerships. The bill will be studied by the Government Operations Interim Committee with the first meeting on Wednesday, May 18, 2016.
WRDA would build on this with: Authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to establish partnerships with non-federal interests to allow the non-federal interests to help address the backlog of maintenance at Corps projects by maintaining the projects at their own expense. Additionally, there are several reforms to the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act Program. These look like great steps that should build on our instate attempts to accelerate smart and disciplined infrastructure investment through informed decisions and innovative partnerships.
Leveraging Federal Infrastructure for Increased Water Supply:
WRDA Directs the Secretary to review proposals to increase water supplies by increasing storage capacity, modifying project management, or accessing water that has been released. This could have broad implications on understanding the role of new state driven supply projects as part of SB281 (2015), attempts to change ownership of existing federal projects (HJR4), as part of the broader existing federal system and supply issues.
Building on Data First:
This past session, the Legislature in collaboration with the Chamber, water stakeholders and the Governor’s Office helped advance key reforms and investments in Utah’s water data. (SB251). WRDA builds on these reforms with requirements that requires electronic reporting of compliance monitoring data, for drinking water data where practicable.
This past session, the Legislature moved forward with requiring block rates for water pricing to increase revenue for repair/replace projects and promote conservation (SB28). WRDA requires an EPA study on water pricing. The scope and scale of the research is yet to be seen, but may provide a valuable benchmark for Utah’s elected officials to review.
Drought resilience guidelines:
Hope is not a strategy, as our good friend Will Sarni put it. Building on the efforts of the Western Governor’s Association’s Drought Forum, WRDA will require EPA, in conjunction with the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Director of NOAA, and other appropriate Federal agency heads along with State and local governments, to develop nonregulatory national drought resilience guidelines relating to drought preparedness planning and investments for communities, water utilities, and other water users and providers. It will be interesting to watch the development of these guidelines rollout.
As a quick note, the Salt Lake Chamber does not currently have a position on the bill. Although, we joined the US Chamber and chambers across the country supporting the 2013 version of the bill. The team at the US Chamber has great summary of WRDA here.
Infrastructure Week 2016 (May 16-23)
Additionally, we wanted to make you aware that the Salt Lake Chamber and the Utah Transportation Coalition will be participating in Infrastructure Week. More info to come.
Interested in the Water Committee? Join our next meeting: May 12, 2016 – 8 am – Salt Lake Chamber