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Water Infrastructure Bill Finally Clears Congress

May 29, 2014
Last week with large bipartisan majorities, the U.S. House and Senate passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) that will provide resources to upgrade the nation’s aging water infrastructure.
 
The bill authorizes $12.3 billion for 34 new lock, dam, levee, port and ecosystem restoration projects and includes a new pilot program that makes loans available to local governments building large water and wastewater-related infrastructure projects and activities. The National League of Cities had advocated for the bill, which now awaits President Barack Obama’s signature.
 
The five year, $350 million pilot program, known as the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, (WIFIA, modeled after the successful TIFIA program), provides low-interest loans and loan guarantees for large water and wastewater-related infrastructure projects and activities (projects of at least $20 million or $5 million for communities serving less than 25,000 people). While there are limitations on the use of the program, including a cap on the percentage of a project that can be funded through the program and a provision that tax-exempt municipal bonds cannot be used for the non-federal share of the project, this is a good first step to providing communities with more financing options to upgrade our nation’s aging infrastructure.
 
The bill includes several other provisions important to local governments:
  • Sets target expenditures for a gradual increase in the percentage of user fees that are spent through the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for harbor and port maintenance, reaching 100 percent by 2025.
  • Amends the Clean Water Act to ensure that projects funded with State Revolving Loan Funds maximize the potential for efficient water use, reuse, recapture and conservation; adds language that states may provide additional subsidization to local governments in the form of principal forgiveness and negative interest loans; includes a Buy American requirement for iron and steel and requires EPA to conduct a review of the SRF state allotment formula.
  • Allows local project sponsors to submit proposals to the Army Corps, which in turn would submit a list to Congress for project authorization.
  • Allows local project sponsors to contribute their own funds to the Army Corps to carry out studies and move projects forward via the processing of permits.
  • Sets a hard deadline of three years for Army Corps feasibility studies and requires concurrent reviews of feasibility studies and environmental reviews.


 
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