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WRDA Gets a New Name and Maybe a New Life

This week, House and Senate conferees agreed on selected provisions from two very different Water Resource Development Act bills.  The compromise measure (S 612) is named the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act.  The House passed WIIN yesterday.  Senate passage is less certain.  California Senators Boxer (D) and Feinstein (D) are at odds with one another over drought provisions negotiated by Feinstein that would allow greater releases from the massive Central Valley Project.  Boxer vehemently opposes the provisions, alleging that they exceed Endangered Species Act requirements.  Boxer is threatening a filibuster to prevent the bill from reaching the Senate Floor for a vote.
In addition to the traditional water infrastructure projects managed by the Corps of Engineers, the WIIN Act includes new SDWA provisions and funding for lead in drinking water issues as well as requirements for coal ash management, language for tribes and natural resources, and special provisions for California drought issues.  You can download the drinking water provisions (pp. 219-270) found in Title II of the more than 700 page Act at http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20161205/CPRT-114-HPRT-RU00-S612.pdf.  According to the House T&I Committee press release, the drinking water provisions in S 612 are designed to:

  • Empower small and economically disadvantaged communities to improve their drinking water services.
  • Equip communities with programs and activities to reduce concentrations of lead in drinking water, including the replacement of lead service lines.
  • Empower states and provide them flexibility to incorporate underserved communities that have inadequate drinking water systems, and aid smaller, lower-income communities, tribes, and states in water quality testing and general compliance with Safe Drinking Water Act requirements.
  • Benefit communities by requiring public water systems to notify customers if the utility is exceeding federal drinking water lead action levels, similar to H.R. 4470 which passed the House 416-2.
  • Create a voluntary program for testing for lead in school and childcare center drinking water.
  • Promote transparency and accountability by creating a clearinghouse of public information on the cost effectiveness of alternative drinking water delivery systems, including systems that are supported by wells.
  • Authorize research on innovative water technologies, including those that identify and mitigate sources of drinking water contamination and improve compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

WIIN also authorizes funding for the following initiatives:

  • $60M (FY 17-21) to create a new grant program for underserved communities
  • $60M (FY 17-21) to create a new grant program for new lead reduction activities including lead service line replacement for publicly owned lines; testing to identify contributing factors for increased lead concentrations in drinking water; and assistance to low income homeowners for lead service line replacement.
  • $100M in additional capitalization grants will be available for 18 months to support lead and infrastructure efforts.
  • $20M (FY 17) per the sense of Congress for WIFIA loans used for projects that address lead and other contaminants.

It remains to be seen whether the WIIN Act will be approved today on the Senate Floor.  It is closely tied to another surprisingly contentious Senate issue — whether or not to pass a new CR to keep the government in operation after midnight tonight (see related article).  If the Senate does not pass the CR, the authorized funding levels in the WIIN bill cannot be appropriated and none of the program provisions can be implemented.