Last week the House Transportation Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee held a hearing to explore the progress made under the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA), enacted a year ago. WRRDA authorized $12.3 billion to finance water projects ranging from harbor expansion in coastal states to flood control programs in the Midwest, and sought to expedite and streamline the process for completing those projects. As we reported when WRRDA was enacted, the legislation contained innovative financing measures such as Public Private Partnerships (P3s) and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) as pilot programs. WIFIA provided up to $200 million in low-interest federal loans and guarantees for large water infrastructure projects (including those delivered through P3s) without interfering with already existing project financing through the State Revolving fund, and gave a green light to a wide variety of water projects, including storm and flood damage reduction programs and coastal harbor improvement projects.
The purpose of the hearing was to review the progress that has been made during the year since WRRDA’s enactment. Subcommittee members heard testimony from Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Lieutenant General Thomas P. Bostick, Chief of Engineers of the Corps.
During the hearing, many Representatives commented on the somewhat slow progress in implementing WRRDA’s provisions (Grace Napolitano (D-CA), for example, noted that implementation guidance has been issued by the Army Corps for only 40% of WRRDA’s provisions. Lawmakers expressed disappointment at what they viewed as a too-slow pace on water resource projects authorized by the legislation.
Unfortunately, the bad news does not end there. In a joint statement by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH) expressed regret and disappointment over the Administration’s deliberate attempts to slow down WRRDA’s implementation. Provisions of the law such as the WIFIA program, which will provide low-interest grants and loans for water and wastewater construction; permit acceleration activities; and the public-private partnership provisions that will allow greater flexibility in financing water projects have received very little implementation attention by the Army Corps. of Engineers. This is very disparaging news.
WRRDA was a bipartisan victory for America’s infrastructure that has unfortunately lost momentum due to bureaucracy and poor implementation. Water infrastructure projects undeniably create jobs, build vital infrastructure, and stimulate the economy in a host of ways. It is troubling that officials at the Army Corps. of Engineers would prefer to put their priorities above the health and vitality of America’s water infrastructure and economy.
At the CWC, we will continue to push for greater education of the needs and benefits of water infrastructure investment, and will continue to pressure officials who are impeding progress.