Senate approves authorization of Water Resources Development Act

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 16, 2013 - The Senate approved Wednesday, with a 83-14 vote, legislation (S. 601) that would authorize funding to modernize the nation's locks and dams, provide upkeep for rivers and coasts, assist with flood protection and restore key environmental areas.

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) aims to promote investment in the nation's critical water resources infrastructure, accelerate project delivery, and reform the implementation of Army Corps of Engineers projects. Supporters said the bill would create up to 500,000 new jobs.

The bill now moves to the House and faces an uncertain future.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said, “I am gratified by the overwhelming vote on final passage of our WRDA bill. Getting 83 votes in favor when bipartisanship is missing in the Senate is very important. Now is the time for the House to act so we can ensure that the benefits of the bill are realized.”

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Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said the bill would encourage the use of public-private partnerships to speed up the planning and construction of water infrastructure projects.

“I'm hopeful this [bill] will help speed up the modernization of locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers which aren't scheduled to be completed until 2090,” said Durbin.  “This new, innovative way to upgrade and maintain our water infrastructure investments will help the Army Corps clear its project backlog even as we face severe fiscal constraints in Washington.”

The bill would create a pilot program to explore agreements between the Army Corps and private entities as alternatives to traditional financing, planning, design, and construction models. 

The legislation is expected to cost about $12.5 billion over a 10-year period, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The bill includes a provision that seeks to ensure that the EPA's pending spill prevention, control and countermeasure (SPCC) regulations adequately recognize the low risk of spills on U.S. farms and ranches.

The language is identical to S. 496, the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship Act.

The provision would exempt farmers from SPCC rules for aboveground oil storage tanks that have an aggregate storage capacity of less than 10,000 gallons. In addition to providing this exemption, it would allow farmers who are regulated and have less than 42,000 gallons of above ground storage capacity to self-certify their own plans.

The provision states:

1. Farms with aggregate above ground (AAG) storage of 2,500 gallons or less are exempt.

2. Farms with AAG storage between 2,501 and 6000 gallons are exempt until EPA+USDA do a study (12 months) to establish a reasonable exemption threshold within the range and EPA then issues a rule (additional 18 months) to set the new exemption threshold.

3. Farms with AAG storage between 6,001 gallons and 20,000 gallons can self-certify.  When the rule is issued, the lower level shall be adjusted accordingly.

4. Farms with AAG storage of 20,001 gallons and more require a PE.

5. Any farm with a spill history, regardless of AAG, requires a PE.

The American Soybean Association (ASA) cheered passage of the bill as many of its members rely on a healthy waterways infrastructure to move their soybeans to market.

“Improving and investing in our waterways infrastructure is vital to the U.S. soybean industry,” said ASA president Danny Murphy. “With more than half of our crop exported, soybean farmers depend on an efficient transportation system to remain competitive in global markets. We face stiff global competition from many countries, and our ability to get our products quickly and efficiently to market is one of the aspects that sets our industry apart from those competitors.”

Murphy said the ASA supported provisions in the bill that would annually increase the amount of funding that is provided from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for port maintenance and dredging; would streamline the process for Corps of Engineers projects and reduce project completion times; and would free up money and increase the capacity of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) by taking the controversial Olmsted Lock and Dam project out of the trust fund account.

Murphy said ASA was additionally pleased with the language on EPA's spill rule (SPCC).

The Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) expressed gratitude for the bill passage.

WCI said the bill contains a number of critically important provisions related to the modernization of inland waterways lock and dam infrastructure. The organization said some 57 percent of the locks and dams on the nation's inland waterways system have exceeded their economic design life expectancy.     

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