By Dean Franks, senior vice president, congressional relations, ARTBA 

The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee April 21 unveiled a pair of bipartisan water resources and infrastructure bills.   

The America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (AWIA 2020) would authorize $17 billion for marine transportation infrastructure and disaster mitigation projects, and other programs set to expire Sept. 30. The legislation would allow 14 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects to move to construction and over 130 more to proceed to the next steps of required approvals. 

Among the programs that would receive reauthorization are various lock and dam rehabilitation programs and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program that aids in project finance. The legislation would authorize funding for port dredging and inland waterway navigation programs funded through the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and Inland Waterway Trust Fund, both funds that collect waterway user fees for improvement projects. The draft bill also includes a reauthorization of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund that would increase federal support for local projects through low-cost financing options. 

The Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 would authorize $2.5 billion in funds for communities to help improve the quality of and access to drinking water. If enacted, it would create a $50 million discretionary grant program for planning, design or construction of public water systems. Also included are provisions to make permanent “Buy America” requirements for projects using the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds and authorizes special funding for drinking water emergencies.   

Though drinking water programs are not typically included in WRDA reauthorizations, declining conditions of drinking water systems warranted inclusion of drinking water titles in the 2016 and 2018 WRDA reauthorization bills. Both bills also contain provisions to promote resilience and sustainability when building or reconstructing projects.   

While an authorization of these projects and programs is critical for infrastructure improvements to move forward, it is important to remember that the annual appropriations process is ultimately where funding levels are decided. In the past, authorization levels have been much higher than what actual spending levels support, though some progress has been made in recent years to increase appropriations for these projects to bring them closer to in line with the recent authorization bills.

With Congress in recess until at least May 4 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the next action on these bills is uncertain. ARTBA will advocate for robust authorization of these critical marine infrastructure programs and will keep members apprised of future actions in Congress.