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In 2014, Congress passed the first Water Resources Reform and Development Act in seven years, with a commitment to pass an updated version every two years. On September 28, 2016 the House of Representatives passed a version of the bill. The Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Bill Shuster (R-PA), Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Grace Napolitano (D-CA) took the lead on the bill, which improves vital water resource infrastructure, and restores “regular order” in the face of disasters. This bill comes following the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which highlighted the deficiencies in the nation’s drinking water infrastructure.

Flint Water Station
Flint, Michigan water, filter distribution, and sample turn-in (USDA/Lance Cheung)

This Act is customized to address “specific federal responsibility” to reinforce infrastructure, with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers. This bill provides $9 billion, covering the federal share for improvements of “ports, channels, locks, dams, and other infrastructure.” It would also fund 31 Chief’s Reports (recommendations from the US Army Corps of Engineers) to identify project priorities. Additionally, 29 possible studies were commissioned, including navigation, flood risk management, hurricane and storm damage risk reduction, and environmental restoration studies. Part of the responsibility is to “maintain competitiveness, create jobs, and grow the economy.”

As of 28 September 2016, House leaders had struck a deal on including aid for contaminated water systems. The agreement would authorize $170 million in spending to “any community identified in…any State for which the President has declared an emergency under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.” As of now only Flint, Michigan would qualify for the program, based on their disaster declaration following the water crisis. Included in the bill is funding for improvement of the water treatment plant as well as replacement of various lead lines. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) said Democrats would withdraw any objections that they had earlier about the stopgap spending bill and would vote for the bill to be moved forward. The Act is awaiting a vote in the Senate.

Sources and Further Reading:

  1. 2848 – Water Resources Development Act of 2016 – 114th Congress
  2. Lead-Laced Water in Flint: A Step-By-Step Look at the Makings of A Crisis – NPR
  3. Report to Congress on Future Water Resources Development – US Army Corps of Engineers
  4. Shuster Statement: Floor Consideration of WRDA – Transport & Infrastructure Committee Press Release
  5. Flint Water Deal May Help Avert Government Shutdown – New York Times
  6. Amendment to the Rules Committee Print for HR 5305 – House of Representatives (Mr. Kildee and Mr. Moolenaar of Michigan)
  7. US Senate Considers Flint Funding, But Time is Short – Detroit Free Press