A major water infrastructure package has advanced in the Senate, with committee approval of legislation authorizing about $19.5 billion for Army Corps of Engineers projects and Environmental Protection Agency wastewater treatment and drinking-water programs.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the two separate bills May 6, both by votes of 21-0.

Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in his opening statement the two water bills, along with a $287-billion, five-year highway measure the panel approved last July “will be critical to our economic recovery after the immediate pandemic response is behind us.”

The committee’s top Democrat, Tom Carper of Delaware, said drinking water and wastewater systems as well as shipping channels and flood protection infrastructure “are essential to our economy and to our way of life, but they remain in desperate need of improvement and investments.”

The next step for the legislation would be floor action. But John Doyle, special counsel with law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP, says, “How it moves from here depends on any number of variables.”

He says options include proceeding with the measures as stand-alone bills or combining them with other legislation, such as the committee's highway bill or a future COVID relief measure. Doyle, formerly a senior Army civil works official, adds, "It’s always unclear exactly how bills like this are going to move, but it’s particularly unclear under the current conditions.”

One of the bills the panel cleared is the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (AWIA). It authorizes $4.9 billion for 25 Corps projects and $7.5 billion over three years for EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs), which help finance wastewater treatment facilities.

Carper noted the bill would be the first reauthorization for the Clean Water SRFs since 1987.

The committee-approved AWIA authorizes 25 Corps projects, up from 20 in a draft version that Barrasso and Carper unveiled April 21. In all, the committee bill authorizes $4.9 billion in federal funds for those projects, a $663.5-million increase from the draft.

The price tag could grow further if the Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, signs more "chief's reports" recommending additional Corps projects.

 The total cost of the 25 projects in the bill is  $7.9 billion, counting the nonfederal funding shares.

If the legislation is signed into law this year, it would continue a recent string of water resources legislation enacted every two years. The last such bill, the 2018 AWIA, authorized $3.7 billion for 12 Corps' projects and $4.4 billion for drinking water infrastructure. It didn't include wastewater treatment funding.

The other bill the committee approved is the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020, which would provide $2.5 billion for EPA programs in that area, including the Drinking Water SRF.

All of the funds in the two 2020 bills would be subject to annual congressional appropriations.