Congress Finalizes WRDA 2022 and Sends to Whitehouse for Signature

Congress Finalizes WRDA 2022 and Sends to Whitehouse for Signature

jon pawlow

The legislation, which is the fifth Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in a row since 2014 to pass on a two-year cycle with bipartisan support, is critical for providing a plan for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) work on water resources projects for navigation, flood control, and ecosystem restoration around the Nation.

The House and Senate passed separate WRDA bills this past summer by wide margins in each chamber, evidencing strong support behind these bills.  After several months of negotiations, House and Senate negotiators were successful in reconciling their respective bills, incorporating provisions from both bills in a final WRDA for 2022.  [See the bill text.]

The House and Senate bills, to a reasonable extent, aligned with each other and, unlike recent previous WRDA bills, went relatively light on major, transformative, or hot-button policy proposals.  The House and Senate bills also had considerable stakeholder and Member support going into the negotiations, in part because the bills would authorize numerous large, important water resources projects, included several significant regional priorities, and contained many individual Member-directed (so-called “earmark”) proposals for water resources and environmental infrastructure projects.

This all helped to minimize controversies surrounding the legislation and make it easier for the House and Senate negotiators to reconcile their respective bills.

Here are some highlights of the final WRDA 2022 legislation:

  • The final WRDA bill is very much an amalgam of the House and Senate versions passed earlier this year.  The House and Senate bills had a fair amount of overlap, but there also were many different provisions that did not match.  Nevertheless, most provisions from each bill got incorporated in some way into the final bill, thereby almost doubling the length of the final bill as compared to the House and Senate versions.  There was only a handful of provisions in either the House or Senate versions that did not make it into the final bill.
  • The final WRDA bill authorizes 25 new projects around the Nation that have completed the Corps’ technical review, including 5 for navigation, 6 for managing flood risk, 11 for hurricane and storm damage risk reduction, and 3 for ecosystem restoration.  The total (Federal plus non-Federal) price tag for these projects is $50.4 billion.  One of those projects is the massive $34.4 billion Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration project proposed for Galveston Bay.  Other very large projects authorized include the $6.3 billion New York-New Jersey Harbor Deepening Channel Improvements project, 2 hurricane and storm damage risk reduction projects in Louisiana at a total cost of nearly $3.1 billion, a $2.7 billion coastal storm risk management system for the Florida Keys, a $1.7 billion project consisting of levees and floodwalls along the South Shore of Staten Island, and the $1.3 billion Charleston Peninsula coastal storm risk management project.  These and the other authorized projects still will need Congress to appropriate funding.
  • The bill contains authorizations for 94 new feasibility studies for future water resources development projects, and 12 studies to modify existing projects.  In addition, it modifies 6 projects pursuant to pending Director’s Reports (also known as Post-Authorization Change Reports, or PACRs), which have been approved by the Corps, at a total cost of $11.8 billion.  The bill contains directives for the Corps to “expedite” the completion of numerous designated projects and studies, including 25 feasibility studies, 2 PACRs, 2 authorized watershed and river basin assessments, and 1 determination related to the maintenance of a Corps navigation project currently underway. 
  • The bill also includes several significant regional priorities, among other things, pertaining to Western water supply, conservation, and drought issues, coastal Louisiana and other coastal areas, and Everglades restoration.  These include provisions expanding the Corps’ authority to address the future water supply needs of communities, creating a Western Water Cooperative Committee charged with minimizing conflicts between Army Corps projects and state water laws, and authorizing a number of studies to evaluate facilities in Western states and to find efficiencies at Corp reservoirs.
  • Notably, the bill adds numerous individual Member-directed proposals for water resources and environmental infrastructure projects, including the authorization of over 100 new environmental infrastructure authorities, and modifying 23 existing environmental infrastructure authorities, for a total of almost $6.6 billion in environmental infrastructure assistance for community-driven projects and state-wide infrastructure programs carried out in partnership with the Corps throughout the Nation. 
  • The final WRDA bill contains various bipartisan provisions to boost the Corp’s ability to address sea-level rise, shoreline erosion, and the threat of increasingly extreme weather .  The bill directs the Corps to study and map coastal land changes; expands feasibility studies to incorporate other flood risks and include water supply, water conservation, and measures to reduce water resource impacts of extreme weather events, including drought; authorizes the Corps to perform up to 10 feasibility studies (at 90 percent Federal cost) of managed aquifer recharge projects; prioritizes beach renourishment; extends for 15 years periodic renourishment for projects that have reached their maximum authorized renourishment period; reauthorizes some of the Corps’ levee authorities; and allows the Corps to not only repair and restore non-Federal hurricane, shore protection, and other flood control structures to their original design, but to address deficiencies and enhance their resilience beyond their original design to make communities more resilient.  The bill also amends a non-Federal levee repair authority to increase the Corps’ per-project assistance limit from $10 to $25 million, and to prioritize assistance for economically disadvantaged communities.
  • WRDA 2022 includes a policy provision that makes permanent the 65-percent general revenues/35-percent Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) cost-share for lock and dam construction and major rehabilitation projects, which was first established in WRDA 2020.  The cost-share provision was set to expire in 2031 (at which time the cost-share would return to the former 50/50 split).  It is hoped that the 65/35 cost share will help IWTF revenues finance more projects than under the previous 50/50 cost-share.
  • A section of the final bill requires the Corps to track and provide an annual report to Congress on time frames for completing National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews for water resources development projects, to help assess and get a better accounting of how long it takes for water projects to navigate permitting requirements.
  • Other provisions in the bill aim to boost tribal representation, outreach, and assistance, including a provision that requires the Corps to establish an advisory committee on tribal and economically disadvantaged communities, and language for the Corps to increase outreach to underserved communities regarding partnerships and resources.

A couple of potentially controversial provisions in the House or Senate bills did not make it into the final WRDA bill, including:

  • A provision in the Senate bill dealing with a shoreline and riverbank protection and restoration mission, which had the potential of being interpreted as changing Corps policy by elevating the protection and restoration of shorelines, riverbanks, and streambanks as a new, top priority Corps mission over the Corps’ traditional navigation, flood control, and ecosystem restoration missions.
  • A provision in the House bill related to a series of dams along the Lower Snake River in the State of Washington, which generated concern among some tribes and environmental interests that the provision could exclude tribes from discussions over the dams’ future.

There was some question of how and when the final WRDA 2022 bill would reach the finish line this year, but ultimately it hitched a ride with the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 (NDAA) to pass out of Congress and go to the White House for the President’s signature.  [See NDAA bill; WRDA 2022 is in Division H—Water Resources, TITLE LXXXI—Water Resources Development Act of 2022 of the NDAA bill.]  The President is expected to sign the bill.

Enactment of WRDA 2022 will be good news for the Nation.  WRDA bills deal with the Nation’s water resources infrastructure managed by the Corps.  The Corps’ missions, and its associated water resources infrastructure around the Nation, are vital to promoting our Nation’s economy, prosperity, and national security through the development, management, protection, and enhancement of the Nation’s water and related land resources for flood damage reduction, commercial navigation, environmental restoration, and allied purposes.

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