Transportation Committees Prep New Waterways Bill

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Congressional transportation policymakers recently announced plans to kick off consideration of legislation aimed at improving the country’s transportation waterways.

An update of the Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, would pave the way for the approval of billions of dollars for programs centered on flood protection, port dredging and environmental protection.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called on fellow policy authorizers to support robust enhancements for projects primarily under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers.

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“Enacting WRDAs each Congress provides a predictable timeline for nonfederal project sponsors and the Corps alike as projects move through the study and construction phases. Most importantly, the timeline works. It allows for Congress’ timely consideration of the Corps’ important water infrastructure projects that provide benefits to communities across the nation,” said the chairman during a committee hearing this month.

DeFazio continued, “In the last WRDA, we authorized 46 chief’s reports. That’s 46 projects ready for construction.”

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the panel’s water policy subcommittee, added, “This committee has addressed local, regional and national needs through authorization of new corps projects, studies and policies that benefit every corner of the nation. However, all of the projects and studies authorized in WRDAs need appropriated funds for communities to realize the full navigation, flood control and environmental benefits these projects provide.”

Support for a WRDA update gained key endorsements from members on the other side of the aisle. Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, said he welcomed feedback from the leadership at the corps ahead of the panel’s consideration of the legislation.

“It makes sense to hear first from those who actually direct and do the work: the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works,” said Rouzer.

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Addressing House policymakers, Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, chief of engineers with the corps, emphasized potential benefits associated with research and development projects. He highlighted sustainability initiatives meant to facilitate access along waterways, such as “Engineering With Nature” strategies: “The Corps [“Engineering With Nature”] initiative supports sustainable infrastructure systems and embraces the intentional and substantial use of natural systems in providing water resources solutions.”

READ MORE: Army Corps of Engineers Gets $14 Billion to Help Ease Supply Chains

He continued, “Through EWN, the corps aspires to implement nature-based solutions for civil works projects in partnership with cost-sharing sponsors. ”

On the other side of the Capitol, addressing senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee, Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, offered an update on the regulatory landscape. His input is meant to guide lawmakers as they craft the water policy legislation: “We are working closely with the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ that is informed by science, experience, expertise and that protects public health, the environment and downstream communities while supporting economic opportunity, agriculture and other industries that depend on clean water.”