While Washington may have a well-deserved reputation for partisan gridlock, the U.S. Senate took a major step on September 15 towards showing that issues around water and water infrastructure can be overwhelming bipartisan when it passed S.2848, the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA), with a thumping 95-3 vote. In an intense election season where our national politics can seem so divided, this vote shows that certain issues like water are so fundamentally important that they can cross partisan lines and bring our lawmakers together to make real change.
WRDA bills traditionally authorize Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) projects for flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration. The Senate’s 2016 WRDA bill includes these core components, but also goes further toward advancing strong water infrastructure in the U.S. than ever before by incorporating reforms and investments under both the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. This broader scope for the 2016 Senate WRDA comes in response to the Flint crisis and growing recognition of the nation’s needs and concerns regarding water infrastructure and affordability.
NACWA has reported extensively on the bill’s provisions for the clean water sector, which include reforms to address affordability, facilitate innovation, and increase infrastructure investment. The Senate WRDA bill represents a milestone legislative achievement for the clean water sector in its efforts to advance clean water act reforms and investments. Significantly, passage of this bill has put 95 Senators – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike – on record in favor of providing significant new investment tools and common sense regulatory reforms to help all Americans afford investments in clean and safe water.
Coincidentally, the Senate bill’s passage on September 15th occurred on the same day as “Imagine a Day Without Water”. Led by the Value of Water Coalition – of which NACWA is a member – this campaign engages the public around the idea that water is essential, invaluable, and worthy of investment. Between increased public awareness and the continued hard work of NACWA and the entire water sector, this message can reach all members of Congress and spur impactful, bipartisan solutions to critical water challenges. As the Senate WRDA bill certainly helps underscore, water is truly a bipartisan issue.
With the Senate’s strong WRDA vote building momentum, attention now focuses on the House of Representatives to debate and vote on their much slimmer WRDA package, H.R. 5303. House leaders have indicated a desire to move WRDA before recessing for the November elections – and if they do, House and Senate committee staff could get to work on reconciling their respective bills in conference so that a final WRDA bill could be sent to the President before the year’s end.
NACWA and the entire water sector is watching what happens with the ball now in the House’s court. We are hopeful that we can end 2016, a year in which communities around the country grappled with major water challenges, with real improvements in federal clean water policy signed into law.