ARCHIVE SITE - Last updated Jan. 19, 2017. Please visit www.NACWA.org for the latest NACWA information.
On September 15th the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed S. 2848, The Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA), with a 95 to 3 vote. WRDA is traditionally a two-year reauthorization package for flood control, navigation and environmental restoration projects undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE). However, in light of recent water crises, particularly the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich., this year’s Senate WRDA package includes provisions that bolster investment in water and wastewater infrastructure (including an emergency aid package for the City of Flint), policy reforms to the Clean Water Act (CWA) that address ratepayer affordability challenges, and authorizations for several watershed-based restoration initiatives.
On September 28th, following the Senate vote, the House of Representatives passed its WRDA package also with a strong bipartisan vote of 399-25. The House WRDA bill, H.R. 5303, is narrower than the Senate package and focuses primarily on ACOE project authorizations, though amendments were added during the House floor debate to provide aid to the City of Flint, to authorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and encourage the use of natural features in ACOE projects, among other items.
Final enactment of WRDA during the Lame Duck session in December is promising given that both chambers of Congress approved their respective WRDA bills with broad bipartisan support. However, given the stark differences between the Senate and House bills, significant negotiations will need to occur in order to produce a final bill that reconciles both packages.
Congress historically reauthorizes WRDA every two years, but has struggled to maintain this schedule over the last decade as concerns regarding earmarks emerged. In 2014, Congress enacted a reauthorization package to reform the ACOE project selection process in order to address these concerns. If this year’s WRDA package is enacted, it will help reestablish a biennial schedule for WRDA reauthorization, a priority for leaders of the House and Senate authorizing committees—the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
During the 2014 WRDA authorization effort, Congress included several drinking water and wastewater infrastructure-related funding provisions including program revisions to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) Program and establishing a new water infrastructure loan program referred to as the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (WIFIA). The 2016 Senate bill builds on this legislative effort, indicating that Congress may be looking to WRDA as a legislative vehicle to advance policy priorities related to municipal water and clean water needs.
Safe Drinking Water and Clean Water Infrastructure (S. 2848 – Title VII)
Title VII of the Senate package includes provisions related to the SDWA and the CWA, as well as authorizations for several watershed-based restoration initiatives throughout the country. Several provisions authorize and/or reauthorize funding-related programs administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) including targeted investments in lead service line replacement, wet weather control, and technology development. None of these provisions are included in the House package with the exception of a narrow set of provisions addressing the drinking water crisis in Flint.
Sense of Senate and Authorizations for the SRF programs: While the Senate package does not include an overall authorization amount for the Clean Water (CW) or Drinking Water (DW) SRF programs, Title VII begins with a Senate resolution calling on Congress to maintain robust funding for these programs. The statement refers to economic data in support of strong funding for water infrastructure that were contained in an analysis by the Water Environment Federation and the WateReuse Association which found that in addition to public health and environmental impacts, every dollar of a Federal SRF capitalization grant returns a minimum of $0.21 to the U.S. Treasury in the form of Federal taxes, and up to $0.93 in Federal taxes when additional State spending is factored in as a result of leveraging the Federal SRF investment dollar.
Congress has, for the past several years, provided approximately $2.5 billion combined to the two SRF programs. A decision was likely made by Senate leaders that if the package could not contain a substantially higher authorization amount, including a strong statement about the importance of funding the SRF programs would at least send a signal to appropriators to maintain existing levels. Elsewhere in Title VII, language states that no further cuts to the SRF programs should be made.
Clean Water Act Amendments (Title VII, Subtitle B, S. 2848)
Subtitle B of S. 2848 adopts several key Clean Water Act (CWA)-related policy and funding priorities for which NACWA has advocated. A number of the provisions represent the first significant reforms to the CWA in decades and an important step toward providing municipal dischargers with greater compliance flexibility to address ratepayer affordability challenges.
Highlights of this subtitle include:
ACOE Sections (Titles I – VI)
The ACOE-specific provisions of WRDA are contained in titles I—VI of the Senate bill and titles I—IV of the House bill. Contained within these titles in both packages are project authorizations and project modifications for environmental restoration, navigation, and flood control efforts, including some in which NACWA members have a direct interest.
Integrated Water Resources Management Planning: Both House and Senate packages contain a provision advocated by NACWA designed to encourage greater coordination and integration between ACOE flood control projects and local water resources management programs that target, for example, improved stormwater management or aquifer recharge programs, though the House and Senate provisions take different approaches to accomplishing this goal. The House language (Sec. 142) would require that when conducting a feasibility study, the ACOE determine whether a local or regional water management plan exists and, if so, avoid adversely affecting the purposes of the plan and, where feasible, incorporate those purposes into the study. The Senate language (Sec. 1042), on the other hand, authorizes the ACOE to invite a unit of local government to participate in a feasibility study to determine whether opportunities exist for enabling the ACOE-sponsored project to support local water management goals. While these two provisions will need to be reconciled, the fact that both packages contain this policy reform indicates a desire to encourage integration between efforts designed to control floods and efforts designed to improve water quality and/or address water supply challenges.
Additional provisions within these titles in the House and/or Senate bills that are potentially of interest to NACWA members include:
Innovative Financing & Promotion of Innovative Technologies (Title VII, Subtitle C, S. 2848)
This subtitle contains authorizations for several funding-related programs, the most significant of which is an authorization to establish a trust fund for investments in water and wastewater infrastructure, which has been a NACWA advocacy priority for many years. The proposed trust fund would be established at the U.S. Department of Treasury and raise revenue on a voluntary basis through licensing fees paid by manufacturers of consumer products that place a label on products indicating that their purchase contributes to clean and safe water. The proposal is based on H.R. 4468, Water Infrastructure Trust Fund Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Congressman John Duncan (R-TN) and Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY) earlier this year. The funds raised by the Treasury would be dedicated to the CW and DW SRF (Sec. 7303).
Sec. 7303 also contains NACWA proposed language authorizing EPA to conduct a study on the potential of establishing a subsidy program for low-income ratepayers struggling to afford water and wastewater bills and help incentivize full-cost pricing of water and clean water services.
Additional subtitle B highlights include:
Drinking Water (Title VII, Subtitle A, S. 2848)
The Senate’s drinking water subtitle includes numerous provisions aimed at addressing drinking water-related concerns and preventing another lead-related crisis such as occurred in Flint. In total, the provisions authorize $1.8 billion in federal spending over five years for various drinking water-related programs. The majority ($1.4 billion) is in the form of EPA grants to aid small/disadvantaged communities, with the remainder targeted to public service line replacement and assistance to low-income homeowners to replace privately owned service lines, pipes, fittings, or fixtures that contain lead. Grant funds are also authorized to support voluntary drinking water testing programs in schools and child care facilities (Sec. 7101-7111).
Additional specific highlights include:
Drinking Water Disaster Relief and Infrastructure Investments (Title VII, Subtitle D, S. 2848)
Subtitle D of the Senate package provides the much-anticipated federal assistance for the City of Flint to address its drinking crisis as proposed by EPW Committee leaders Senators Inhofe (R-OK) and Boxer (D-CA) and the Michigan Senators Stabenow (D-MI) and Peters (D-MI) in February. The bill only identifies Flint by name in a section requiring a GAO report regarding the Flint crisis – but other provisions including loans, loan forgiveness, and grants would provide financial assistance where a Presidential emergency declaration has been made due to lead or other contaminants in drinking water, with Flint as the obvious intended beneficiary. Key authorizations totaling $220 million aimed at Flint include:
Watershed Restoration (Title VII, Subtitle F, S. 2848)
Subtitle F authorizes a total of $2.27 billion for restoration efforts in several large watersheds and basins. Several NACWA members receive funding through these initiatives for non-point related work they undertake within these watershed regions. Specifically, the legislation authorizes:
Innovative Water Infrastructure Workforce Development Program (Title VII, Subtitle G, S. 2848)
Subtitle G authorizes EPA to establish a new competitive grant program to assist in developing innovative activities for workforce development in the water utility sector. A total of $5 million is authorized over five years for education and workforce development, with grants going directly to water and wastewater utilities.
House and Senate negotiators now have the task of reconciling their respective packages and it is unclear at this point whether Senate negotiators will be successful in maintaining the many non-ACOE provisions contained in their bill.
As negotiations get underway between the House and Senate to determine what remains in a final package, NACWA urges its members to reach out to their House Congressional Delegations to educate them on the value of the Senate Title VII measures and ask that they support inclusion of them in final WRDA legislation.
Membership gives you access to the tools to keep you up to date on legislative, regulatory, legal and management initiatives.