For the last decade, Congress has been able to pass the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) – a compilation of updates to water resource policies and authorization of funding for water infrastructure projects and studies carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – on a biennial basis.
Just before the August recess, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held a non-federal WRDA stakeholder perspectives hearing. Today, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee holds the first of a series of House hearings on needs for the next WRDA.
While both committees are still in the process of gathering proposals for inclusion in the upcoming WRDA, expect to see:
Emphasis on projects rather than policies: While WRDAs are often more specific on individual projects than other authorizing legislation, EPW Committee Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said in July that they "do not anticipate WRDA 2024 will be a policy-heavy bill. Instead, the bill will focus on authorizing new or modifying existing studies and projects.” Assuming House leadership agrees, this would allow the Corps of Engineers to catch up on implementing policy changes and projects from prior WRDAs. Despite Senator Capito’s comment, stakeholders have made clear that opportunities absolutely exist to Senate reduce red tape in the administration of Corps projects.
Coastal restoration and resilience: EPW Committee Chair Tom Carper (D-DE) has repeatedly called out the importance of coastal resilience projects in his home state. As more Members of Congress and their districts/states are impacted by climate change, look for more funding to be allocated for mitigation and restoration projects – particularly in coastal states.
Flood mitigation: Billions of dollars in damage caused by historic flooding in the Northeast should garner support to fund flood mitigation projects in the hardest hit areas.
Resources for inland waterways and ports: As supply chain issues persist, expect members to advocate for projects that facilitate shipping within inland waterways. An additional authorization of funding to bolster the Port of Los Angeles, America’s busiest container port, is also likely.
Guidance and resources for public-private partnerships: The 2014 WRDA established a public-private partnership program through the Corps of Engineers. Ten years later, stakeholders are asking for best practices (particularly on financing) and resources to ensure that private industry and the Corps can collaborate more effectively.
The regular passage of WRDAs in recent years presents an opportunity to engage in an exceptionally bipartisan process. With this being the last WRDA before Chairman Carper’s retirement at the end of 2024, it’s fair to assume that the Senate will work to pass what could be a legacy bill in a timely manner next year. Expect legislation to be introduced in mid-to-late spring next year and markups to be held soon after.