By Dean Franks, vice president of congressional affairs, ARTBA

After passing the first water infrastructure improvement bill in seven years in 2014, the Senate is attempting to return to a previous practice of passing new Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) laws every two years.

The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee April 28 approved 19-1 the “Water Resources Development Act of 2016,” S. 2848.  The wide-ranging legislation, if enacted, would authorize funding for the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to carry out lock, damn, levee, port and inland waterway construction projects.  In addition to core program funding, the bill would authorize 27 projects that have received initial approval by the Corps and includes a $220 million package to assist the city of Flint, Michigan, in mitigation and clean-up efforts for the highly publicized underground pipe system failure.

The $9 billion bill makes various changes to clean water and drinking water programs, but does not authorize new or additional funding for such programs.  Also, it should be noted that all WRDA programs and projects rely on the annual appropriations process to receive the funding that would be promised in this legislation.

EPW Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Ranking Democrat Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) would like their bipartisan legislation considered by the full Senate before Congress departs for a seven-week recess in mid-July, but the next steps are unclear.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plans to spend the majority of the next few months of limited floor time passing annual appropriation bills, leaving limited time, if any, for the WRDA bill.

While House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) has indicated he’d like to move a new water bill through his committee this year, no such legislation has been scheduled for activity by his committee.