Senate Panel to Craft Water Resources Bill

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) recently outlined a plan to craft Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) legislation during the upcoming congressional break with the goal of committee approval in a November-December lame duck session.

WRDA bills authorize flood control, navigation, and other types of water resources projects conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  They used to be approved every two years (usually election years) like clockwork, as they contained earmarks that were popular among members.  However, differences in Congress about how the Corps conducts its business has resulted in only one WRDA bill (2007) in the last 12 years, and the recently-enacted congressional earmark moratorium has made it even more difficult to move WRDA bills.

In remarks at a hearing designed to demonstrate the job-creating ability of these water resources projects, Boxer announced that she and her staff would take the first stab at drafting a WRDA reauthorization bill and would then distribute that draft to both Republican and Democratic members of the committee for their comments.  While admitting that the chances of signing a WRDA bill into law were slim, she hoped that the committee would approve bipartisan bill to “lay down a marker” for the next Congress and promise that the committee would take up the bill even if Republicans took control of the Senate in January.

While Boxer was highly critical the earmark ban at the hearing, she indicated that she would abide by it and was devising a plan that would create standards that individual projects must meet in order to qualify for funding by the Corps.  Whether Boxer can gain consensus on her panel for a WRDA draft before the end of the year remains to be seen, but she expressed confidence at the hearing yesterday.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue in the House, has been quieter on a WRDA bill.  However, if Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) managed to work with Boxer to push through a WRDA bill this year, he would achieve a remarkable legislative trifecta – approval of a FAA reauthorization, surface transportation reauthorization, and WRDA reauthorization in one calendar year.

Testimony and an archived webcast of the Senate WRDA hearing can be found on the committee website.


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