Have you heard about the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016? Not to be confused with the WRDA of 1974 or WRDA of 1992 – those are just three of 11 WRDAs. All WRDAs are related to water resources needs, but the actual applications are varied among environmental, structural, navigational, flood protection, hydrology, and other needs. The WRDA is revisited approximately every two years and does not designate new money for spending, but authorizes projects for which lawmakers can make spending appropriations in the future.

Though not particularly exciting (and usually non-controversial), it’s an important piece of legislation for folks whose work is affected – directly or indirectly – by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) hydrology projects. Engineers who design dams, bank sponsors who provide compensatory mitigation, and developers who need to buy that compensatory mitigation are all impacted by the programs that are authorized, reauthorized, or deauthorized under each WRDA.

Two slightly different versions of a WRDA were passed last month: one by the Senate on September 15, 2016 (vote: 95-3) and the other by the U.S. House of Representatives on September 28, 2016 (vote: 399-25).

Similarities

There are a lot of similarities in the two versions. For example, the new USACE projects that address infrastructure, environmental needs, and flood control are almost the same between the two, and these make up the majority of both bills. These types of programs are the traditional bread-and-butter of WRDAs.

Both bills also include plans for desperately-needed upgrades to aging supply systems, including those in Flint, Michigan, which gained national attention earlier this year.

Differences

However, the Senate’s WRDA is more extensive (and expensive) than the House’s. It includes plans for several Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water and wastewater treatment programs that the House version doesn’t.

With a total of roughly $9 billion of authorizations and reauthorizations, it also comes in about $4 billion higher than the House’s approximately $5 billion total.

Time to Settle

At this point, the two chambers have to settle on a final WRDA package that they can both agree on. In true bureaucratic fashion, a committee will be set up (a House-Senate Conference Committee). Reports indicate that we shouldn’t expect anything until after the November elections.

Disputes regarding traditional USACE projects are not expected. Since both bills include authorizations for infrastructure upgrades in Flint, those are expected to be in the final package too.

However, the amount of money apportioned may be negotiated because the Senate version contained $220 million in authorizations for Flint and similar communities and the House version contained $170 million. The EPA drinking and wastewater treatment programs that appear only in the Senate version will likely be the projects that require the most negotiations.

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Elizabeth High

Elizabeth High

Environmental Specialist II at RS&H, Inc.

Liz is as an environmental specialist and Geographic Information System (GIS) analyst in the San Antonio office. She has over six years of experience in environmental compliance consulting and permitting with an emphasis on GIS and spatial analysis.

Contact Liz: Elizabeth.High@rsandh.com

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