Senate Committee Passes Water Resource Development Act Containing WIFIA Style Pilot

On March 20th, the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee passed HR 601, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).  In general, WRDA provides authorization for various river and harbor project improvements by the Corps of Engineers.  However, this bill also includes an “Innovative Financing Pilot Projects” title that creates a five year WIFIA-like pilot program to assess the effectiveness of a direct funding scheme between either the Secretary of the Army or EPA’s Administrator and large water and/wastewater entities for infrastructure improvements.  There is no state involvement in the oversight or administration of this pilot project.

Under the bill, projects would be selected to ensure a diversity of project types and geographic locations.  For EPA-funded projects, eligible activities include those qualifying under the CWSRF or DWSRF or projects for energy efficiency, repair/rehab, desalination, or a combination of “bundled” projects as prepared by states.  Project costs should not be less than $20 million.  Projects should be nationally or regionally significant with respect to economic and public benefits.  Other selection criteria include the extent of public/private financing, readiness to proceed, inclusion of new or innovative approaches, consideration of extreme weather protections, energy exploration, significant water resource challenges, and a reduction in the contribution of Federal assistance to the project.  A secured loan shall not have a maturity date later than 35 years after the date of completion nor shall repayments commence later than 5 years after the date of substantial completion of the project.  EPA may promulgate such regulations as needed to carry out this effort.  The title authorizes $50 million each year for FYs 14-18 for each of the selected EPA and Corps projects and allows each Federal Agency to reserve not more than $2.2 million in each fiscal year for administration.

As of this writing, there is no companion legislation in the House.