Federal water policy: Lessons from WRDA ‘86

President Reagan signing the Water Resources Development Act of 1986. Our founder Bob Dawson, who helped negotiate the bill on Capitol Hill, is fourth from the right.


In 1986, Congress and President Reagan agreed on a dramatic change to the Federal system of funding water projects. The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) codified a new way of identifying and funding construction of harbors, inland waterway transportation, and flood control projects.

WRDA 1986 was a landmark bill and its provisions are still being felt today. Recently, Valentina Valenta, a writer for Municipal Water Leader magazine, interviewed our founder, Bob Dawson, about his role in negotiating this bill. Back in 1986, Bob was Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. The job of achieving Congressional consensus on WRDA language that year was daunting – Congress had not passed a WRDA bill in 10 years.

An excerpt:

Valentina Valenta: Thirty years later, WRDA 1986 continues to be the framework for the Civil Works program. Events seldom stand still. Perhaps one of the most discussed issues today is the reality that sufficient federal money is unlikely to be found to build all the projects that nonfederal sponsors have supported with a funding commitment and which have been authorized for implementation. What are the possibilities for meeting this challenge as we look toward the future?

Bob Dawson: I think the future is very bright. If you look at the president’s budget for the Corps, it’s a large amount of money. However, proponents have to do a better job of convincing the power structure that these programs are really good and are better than certain social or defense programs. Hill leadership in the committees of jurisdiction is strong.

The Corps leadership is also great. However, constituencies and local sponsors, including individuals and local counties, need to push their projects with the committees, the Corps, and even the Office of Management and Budget. Their engagement truly matters.

The interview deals extensively with several areas of WRDA and includes implications for current Federal policy. To read the full text, please click here.

Bruce Berwick Senior Vice President

Before joining Dawson & Associates in 2016, Bruce Berwick was Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division.

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