Will Water Resources Development Act of 2020 allow for more local control?
Latest iteration of legislative update could give non-federal parties more leeway in local infrastructure projects.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The House of Representatives is back in session for the New Year and it wasn’t long before lawmakers were considering a piece of federal legislation potentially affecting boaters nationwide. On deck during a recent session of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment was the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020. WRDA 2020 is a legislative package establishing federal water infrastructure policy. The policy must be renewed every two years; the WRDA was last renewed in 2018 and is up for renewal again this year.
The WRDA primarily focuses on commercial elements of harbor/port management but recreational boaters are still affected by the legislation. Dredging and recreational economic activity are two elements of the WRDA renewal. The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), for one, has been urging its members to take a proactive interest in the legislative package.
“While WRDA is largely geared towards commercial activity and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) flood control efforts, NMMA is working with key elected officials to include language in the bill that would ensure recreation’s economic impact is considered when determining which projects to prioritize,” NMMA staff said in a released statement.
Making recreational activities (boating, fishing, kayaking, etc.) and ensuring marina access via dredged channels are two of the priorities the NMMA hopes to have included in the 2020 WRDA.
“Properly dredged federal channels are essential to providing critical access points for marinas and coastal communities where businesses depend on marine recreation-based economic activity,” NMMA staff said in a released statement. “However, due to antiquated procedures, recreation is not currently accounted for as an economic benefit when USACE and the Office of Management and Budget … determine project prioritization, which NMMA is working to address in this legislation.”
The key push of NMMA’s campaign: recreational water activities, such as boating, fishing and kayaking, are significant economic drivers and should be included as cornerstones in major water infrastructure policy directives out of Washington, D.C.
Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-California, chairs the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment and said WRDA has already proven to be valuable federal policy.
“Through the biennial enactment of WRDA legislation, this committee has addressed local, regional and national needs through authorization of new Corps projects,” Napolitano said during the Jan. 9 subcommittee hearing where the federal water infrastructure policy was considered. “Since the enactment of [WRDA] in 2018, the Corps has completed and submitted 17 additional … reports to Congress. These projects encompass flood risk management, hurricane and storm damage reduction, navigation, and ecosystem restoration.”
A joint statement by R.D. James, the assistant secretary of the Army (Civil Works), and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite (Army Corps of Engineers) to the House subcommittee emphasized WRDA’s proposed policy direction of would encourage non-federal partners to be more proactive in making water resources infrastructure a priority.
“A key priority for the Administration is encouraging stronger partnerships between the Federal Government and non-Federal stakeholders,” James and Semonite said in a joint testimony. “Stronger partnerships will help to leverage a broader range of financial resources for infrastructure investment, encourage more non-Federal leadership, and remove barriers that can impede the ability of non-federal parties to move forward with investments in those water resources infrastructure they deem priorities.”
One of the WRDA 2020 proposals calls for federal funds to be appropriated to non-federal partners – say, the state of California or Division of Boating and Waterways or Port of Los Angeles – to construct projects on their own.
“This is an important reform to help accelerate projects and create efficiencies,” James and Semonite said in their joint testimony.
WRDA also proposes to establish an “Inland Waterways User Fee” to finance capital investments of freshwater venues and streamline the permitting process to eliminate duplicative reviews of Corps projects.