Cantwell: Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill is ‘A Win for the Future of Washington’s Waterways’

Cantwell-backed Water Resources Development Act passes Senate, 83-14

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hailed Senate passage of the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2013 (S. 601) by a vote of 83-14. The Cantwell-backed legislation would clear the way for projects designed to mitigate the impacts of floods, invest in America’s waterways and restore ecosystems. The measure next goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The Act authorizes Army Corps of Engineers projects and activities such as dredging, flood mitigation and ecosystem restoration. Ports and waterways are critical to the economy of Washington state and the nation, helping to move $78 billion of goods in 2011.

“This bill is a win for the future of Washington’s waterways,” Cantwell said. “The legislation gives the Army Corps authority to carry out projects that will improve the flow of goods through the Pacific Northwest. It also gives local governments the tools they need to move forward on critical investments to strengthen their regions. By increasing protection from flooding for Washingtonians while boosting commerce and the preservation of our waters, we are jump-starting a 21st century approach to water infrastructure and waterway policy.”

Senator Cantwell cosponsored an amendment to the Act designed to prioritize investments in smaller and medium-use ports that have not been dredged due to lack of available federal funds. This amendment, which was included in the Senate-passed bill, would help smaller ports and channels in Washington state like the Port of Ilwaco, Swinomish Channel and U.S. Coast Guard Station Quillayute River.

Cantwell also supported an amendment to add federal “Buy America” requirements, which promotes the use of American-made materials on all projects financed using the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act pilot program included in WRDA.

The Water Resources Development Act of 2013 contains several provisions key to Washington state waterways, including:

• Fighting Invasive Species: The Act directs the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a new program to prevent and manage invasive species such as the quagga mussel in the Columbia River Basin. The Corps would devise strategies in coordination with states, Tribes and other federal agencies to monitor and respond to invasive species threats. Researchers at Portland State University have found that the water chemistry and temperatures in the Columbia River are suitable for the spread of quagga and zebra mussels. In other parts of the country – including the Great Lakes -- quagga mussels have clogged municipal power and water intakes.

• Examining Levee Vegetation: WRDA requires the Army Corps of Engineers to review its levee vegetation policy within 180 days and revise vegetation guidelines within 2 years. During that time the removal of levee vegetation is prohibited unless there is an inherent safety risk. Undercurrent proposed Army Corps policy, all vegetation on levees would need to be removed. The provision in WRDA would allow the Army Corps to study the issue thoroughly. Communities in Washington in the Green River Valley and other river basins need the ability to plant and retain vegetation on levees to fulfill Tribal treaty obligations and the requirements of the Endangered Species Act while continuing to mitigate the risk of flooding in their communities.

• Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act (WIFIA): This new five-year pilot program would allow water and wastewater utilities to apply for low-interest financing via the federal government to construct or improve local water and wastewater infrastructure. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that the shortfall in funding for water and wastewater needs will exceed $540 billion in the next 20 years. Modeled after the successful federal transportation (TIFIA) loan program, WIFIA will lower the cost of borrowing for local drinking water and wastewater management entities with major projects. According to the American Water Works Association the program will allow these entities to leverage $10 for every $1 of federal investment.

• Expediting Project Permits: The Act makes permanent Section 214 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000. This provision has allowed local governments and public ports to provide funding to the Army Corps of Engineers for the review of their permit applications. It would eliminate the unpredictability for project planning that has arisen from short-term extensions of the authority. In 2012 there were Section 214 agreements between 10 Army Corps Districts and 41 entities. In the past, entities including the Port of Vancouver have used the program to move forward faster on projects that support economic growth.

• Leveling the playing field for Washington ports: The legislation includes a provision advanced by Senator Cantwell and Senator Murray that would authorize the return of a portion of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to shippers that use eligible donor ports - ports that contribute a significant amount to the fund but receive very little of the benefit of the taxes paid. The Harbor Maintenance Tax is collected on the value of cargo on seaborne imports coming into American ports, with the proceeds collected going toward harbor operations and maintenance. This provision would benefit the two largest ports in Washington – Seattle and Tacoma – which generate, on average, close to seven percent of the funding for the HMTF but receive just over a penny for every dollar collected from shippers who pay the tax at their ports. This provision, inserted into the bill by Senators Cantwell and Murray, is a continuation of efforts to further address the serious issues of cargo diversion and international competition.