All joking aside about a gridlocked Congress, real progress has been made this week on flood risk reduction authorizations and appropriations. As explained below, it is looking like the 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) may pass shortly, and the relevant budget subcommittees are ready to move an agreed-upon appropriations packet forward to their respective floors as well. Also, Congress appears to have put a nail in the coffin for any proposal to move USACE to a different Federal department.
Sometimes Congress can move so fast (not often, but sometimes), that the various catalogues of their actions aren’t yet caught up. We use an app on our phones to track legislation. And if you pull up S.3021 on our phones it claims the bill is “to designate the United States courthouse located at 300 South Fourth Street in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as the ‘Diana E. Murphy United States Courthouse’.” But actually, this is our new WRDA for 2018, entitled the “America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.’’ Our legislators were proud to put this forth, as well they should; this would be the third-in-a-row for the attempted biennial schedule.
Title I authorizes proposed USACE civil works activities for port, waterway, flood protection, and other water infrastructure improvements for the country. Title II seeks to bring greater investment in and modernization of the country’s aging drinking water infrastructure. Title III encourages the use of clean, baseload hydropower by streamlining the burdensome regulatory approval process. Title IV addresses stormwater and wastewater infrastructure improvements, and reauthorizes and strengthens the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program.
In other news an FY 2019 Energy and Water funding bill was agreed to by House & Senate negotiators (agreed to but still in draft form), all but assuring it will pass Congress and be signed by the president, with any luck by the end of the month. Some of the key elements of the bill are:
- Not later than 60 days after the enactment of this Act, USACE shall provide to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress a work plan… This could mean that we will see a workplan as early as Dec 1 this year, which would be the earliest in years.
- The agreement includes six new starts in the Investigations account and five new starts in the Construction account to be distributed across the authorized mission areas of the USACE.
- General Investigations Account funding: USACE will have $43 million over the President’s budget to allocate in the FY19 Work Plan under the GI account
- Construction Account funding: USACE will have $1.311 billion over the President’s budget to allocate in the FY19 Work Plan under the Construction account.
- Finally, the measure continues to reiterate to USACE that no new start or new investment decision shall be required when moving from feasibility to preconstruction engineering and design (PED).
Interestingly, and importantly, the bill also prohibits the use of any federal funds for reorganizing USACE out of the Department of Defense. Here is the bill language, and here is the report language explaining the basis of not funding the effort.