Congressional committees ramp up WRDA efforts

The Folsom (CA) Dam Joint Federal Project is typical of the water infrastructure projects likely to be funded by WRDA 2018.

The Folsom (CA) Dam Joint Federal Project is typical of the water infrastructure projects likely to be authorized by WRDA 2018.

This week, the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee held a kick-off hearing to receive testimony in anticipation of work on the 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).  WRDAs are the legislative vehicle used to authorize projects and establish policy for the Army Corps of Engineers.

As E&E’s Ariel Wittenberg noted (subscription required) this week, “The committee will hear from non-federal water stakeholders about the importance of passing a Water Resources Development Act this Congress that would authorize Army Corps of Engineers projects and initiatives.”

Senate witnesses testified primarily on the general need to improve and modernize the Nation’s infrastructure for navigation and flood protection and other water-related activities.  The hearing tracked closely with a public “roundtable” discussion that the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee conducted in late October.

The Corps itself is scheduled to appear before both committees next week, which is the logical next step for the process.  We should anticipate that leaders of those two committees will issue a call-for-requests very soon.  This is the opportunity for Members of Congress and constituents to officially request projects, studies, project modifications and policy changes.

I expect that Committee leaders will focus on fulfilling their pledge to keep WRDAs on a two-year cycle.  Unlike most WRDAs where the bills receive, at best, tepid support, the 2018 installment may get a boost from the Administration as it strives to obtain success on the broader topic of “infrastructure” investment.

In addition, House Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (the most vocal advocate of a 2-year WRDA cycle) has added motivation to achieve success this year because he’s term-limited as Chair and plans to retire at the end of 2018.

Having closely watched the WRDA process for more than 30 years and having participated in it from both the agency and Congressional perspectives, I can say that the next several months is a critical “formative” period for those facing water resources challenges and needing federal assistance. Notwithstanding today’s crazy and unpredictable political environment, we can be guardedly optimistic that a WRDA 2018 will gain momentum and hopefully become public law.

Mike Strachn
Senior Advisor

Before joining Dawson in 2003, Mike was Deputy Chief of Staff for the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He also served as Chief, Legislative Affairs Branch and Deputy Chief, Programs Division (Civil Works) for the Army Corps of Engineers.

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