Water Infrastructure Bill May Advance in September

There are only eight weeks left in 2016 for Congress to move legislation, if the lawmakers stick to their schedule. A water infrastructure bill may be one of the few large and complex bills to become law in the remainder of this year.

The Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (S. 2848, H.R. 5303) is authorizing legislation for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ projects involving deepening and widening of harbors, rehabilitation and replacement of locks and dams, building of levees and flood walls and large ecosystem restoration projects.

The water transportation elements have a significant parallel to our highway and air transportation systems. In terms of flood control, it concerns safety for millions of people, homes and businesses. The reservoirs behind dams also become important to recreational commerce.

This time around, the Senate has added authorizations for things normally not in a WRDA bill: the revolving loan funds for drinking water and wastewater systems, and special assistance for localities with polluted drinking water, with Flint, Mich., expected to top the list of recipients.

Those additions complicate the bill, not only by crossing committee jurisdictions for House approval but by raising more issues that might draw objections.

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The House and Senate bills are bipartisan, as is typical for infrastructure bills. That may allow the legislation to cross the finish line this year despite the constrained work schedule in Congress. The Senate bill also has the strong support of Michigan’s senators because of their interest in aid for Flint and its lead-contamination crisis.

Another factor that may help: a strategy to get the legislation without going to a House-Senate conference to work out differences. The work on that strategy is going on through August with the idea that the Senate bill will be further modified on the floor, then the House will take it up and amend it a little more, then the Senate will accept the result and send it on to the president.

Because the remaining work time for Congress is so short, there is no assurance WRDA will make it through even if it does avoid a conference. But it has a good chance.

You can read more in my special report Water Bill May Navigate 2016 Congressional Rapids.