A key infrastructure bill is moving forward on Capitol Hill, with House committee approval of a measure authorizing 12 new or modified U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood and storm protection and other types of water projects. 

The Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, which the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved on June 26 by an overwhelming, bipartisan 61-2 vote, authorizes about $4.8 billion for the new Corps construction projects.

The bill's largest single project allocation is about $3.65 billion for a coastal storm and flood risk management project in St. Tammany Parish, La. The second-largest allotment is $1.7 billion for hurricane and other storm protection on the south shore of New York City's Staten Island.

The House action follows the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's May 22 approval of its WRDA measure.

Mixed Industry Reactions

Industry groups had mixed reactions to the House committee bill. American Association of Port Authorities President and CEO Cary S. Davis praised the House and Senate lawmakers for their WRDA work. 

The group also noted about 20 sections of the House bill that would affect ports, including two of the new project authorizations, in Baltimore and Oakland, Calif.

Waterways Council Inc. pointed to one inland waterway project authorization that made it into the House and Senate bills: the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in the Texas counties of Brazoria and Matagorda.

But WCI President and CEO Tracy Zea said the group was disappointed that the House panel's version did not include a provision that was included in the Senate committee bill. That provision would permanently change the cost-sharing ratio for inland waterways construction and major rehabilitation projects to 75% from general revenues and 25% from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, compared with the present 65% General-35% Trust Fund split.

But Zea said that "we remain hopeful that conference negotiations between the House and Senate will result in a different outcome."

If enacted this year, the measure would continue a 10-year string of approving a WRDA measure every two years.

Floods Prompt Legislative Push 

The severe flooding in the Midwest has given lawmakers an added impetus to move quickly on water resources legislation. That is especially true for committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.), whose northern Missouri district stretches across the state and includes parts of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers' watersheds.

Graves said in his statement opening the committee's voting session, "For Missourians, this legislation delivers hope." He cited provisions in it that expedite the project development process and give more authority to nonfederal project sponsors and get projects completed sooner.

Graves said that in northern Missouri "many of my constituents are anxiously watching river gauges and flooding." He added that such activities are "a sobering reminder of why it's important that we get this bill done as quickly as possible."

Besides the construction projects, the committee's WRDA includes 160 new feasibility studies.

Among other provisions, the new bill extends the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Dam Safety Program through 2028. The program lapsed last Sept. 30. 

The bill also aims to strengthen the High Hazard Potential Dam program by mandating that rehabilitated dams are maintained and floodplain management plans are in place.

The Senate committee's bill authorized about $2 billion for eight Corps construction projects.

It's no surprise that the House panel's version is larger than the Senate committee's proposal. To be included in a WRDA bill, a project must receive a favorable report from the Army’s Chief of Engineers and the number of “Chief’s reports" tends to grow as the legislation moves through its legislative stages.

The next step for the House committee's WRDA would be a floor vote.