Last month, Senator Barbara Boxer, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, announced that her Committee will soon begin assembling their version of the next Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). This legislation, which is supposed to be reauthorized every two years, authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to construct critical flood protection, navigation, and ecosystem restoration projects nationwide.
In a bipartisan letter to their Senate colleagues, Boxer and Senator Inhofe, the Ranking Committee Member, asked that each office submit their highest priority water infrastructure projects to the Committee for consideration no later than March 28th. The Senators’ letter indicates that the Committee is serious about moving a bill out of committee and to the whole Senate for consideration sometime this spring.
WRDA is a unique piece of authorization legislation because Congress uses it to provide line-item authorizations for individual projects instead of authorizing a lump sum that enables the Corps to invest wherever it chooses. Once authorized, lawmakers can then appropriate funds for these activities in annual Energy and Water Development Appropriations spending bills. Depending on an authorized project’s purpose, it is typically subject to cost-sharing requirements that range from 20 percent to 100 percent non-federal share.
It should be noted that not all water resources projects are eligible for inclusion in WRDA. Projects typically included in WRDA are those with completed Chief of Engineers reports, modifications to existing Corps of Engineers’ projects, study authorizations for new projects, and miscellaneous projects consistent with the Corps’ program and demonstrating a federal interest.
Interest in authorizing new studies and projects has likely prompted consideration of a new WRDA bill in the 112th Congress, as the legislation provides much-needed momentum to help state and local governments commit funds to major water system restoration and flood control projects across the nation. Congress last passed that the last Water Resources Development Act in 2007 with overwhelming bipartisan support, overriding President Bush’s veto. But lawmakers have been unable to a reauthorization since then.
Because it’s difficult to assess when Congress will pass the next authorization bill, many cities and states have taken issues into their own hands instead of waiting for federal support, funding repairs and expansions through state and local bond referendums or with the support of innovative new public-private partnerships.
Boxer and Inhofe sent their joint letter last month despite the fact that the House and Senate agreed to a two-year earmark moratorium and President Barack Obama vowed to veto any bill with funding for the parochial projects. The letter, which doesn’t mention the word earmark, states that: “Congress has a constitutional role to play in determining spending priorities for the Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works program. Without congressional input, the administration would be the sole voice in setting water resources priorities.”
In a separate effort that could affect whether WRDA is successful moving forward, Inhofe teamed up with Senator John McCain this week to introduce a proposal that would exempt from an earmark ban those projects specifically authorized by Senate committees, that meet “funding eligibility criteria” established by the relevant committees, or that are created through a competitive-bidding and formula-based process. Under the proposal, earmarks could also be enacted with the support of 75 senators.
If you would like to submit a project request for WRDA, now is the time to get in contact with your two Senators’ offices to express such an interest and acquire an application. While each Senate office utilizes its own form to gauge and rank project submissions, the following template is what each Member will have to submit to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works at the end of the month.
James Alfano is an Editor at The FundBook, a free monthly publication that empowers cities and counties to pursue an increasing array of federal funding opportunities to meet their capital needs.