October 10, 2018

Water Resources Development Act Passes Senate

The Water Resources Development Act of 2018 passed the Senate today with a 99-1 vote. That follows the House passage of the same bill, on a 408-2 vote.

As we reported earlier, the WRDA bill contains language that authorizes a pilot project to help finance development of water infrastructure. Language in this legislation will enable local irrigation districts to apply for low-interest federal loans from the Environmental Protection Agency to finance new reservoirs, below ground storage projects, recycling and desalination projects. This language was specifically aimed at California’s Central Valley.

The WRDA bill also contains a reauthorization of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Sections that may be of interest to Western Growers members are as follows:  

  • Section 2005 – Drinking water infrastructure resilience and sustainability: This section includes new grant opportunities within an existing $60 million annual program for states to assist small and disadvantaged communities when contaminants are present or are likely to be present in drinking water provided by a public water system or underground source of drinking water. The intent of this provision is to assist states with small and disadvantaged communities to promptly address problems associated with testing, treatment and remediation of contamination sources. Additionally, in cases where a third party is later found to be at fault for the contamination, EPA is authorized to reclaim the funds provided by the grant from the party at fault. This section also provides $4 million in grants in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 for programs for water systems, as well as for assistance in planning, design, construction, implementation, operation or maintenance to improve resilience to natural hazards.
  • Section 2015 State Revolving Loan Funds: This section makes changes in the statue regarding requirements on the use of Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds (DWSRF) and its eligible uses. It makes clear that DWSRF monies can be used to replace or rehabilitate aging treatment, storage or distribution facilities to meet SDWA mandates or improve public health. The section also moves existing prevailing wage requirements on DWSRFs into the SDWA; reinvigorates the use of DWSRFs for state source water protection planning; requests EPA to collect information on best management practices for DWSRFs; and requires the EPA’s national drinking water needs survey to include a report on lead pipes. Importantly, this section permits states to increase the amount of DWSRF loans they make to economically disadvantaged communities and permits an additional 10 years for repayment of these loans to the state.
  • Section 2023 – Authorization for capitalization grants to states for Drinking Water Treatment Revolving Loan Funds: This section authorizes over $4.4 billion in appropriations, over three years, for capitalization grants awarded to state drinking water revolving loan funds. The amounts are: $1.174 billion in fiscal year 2019; $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2020; and $1.95 billion in fiscal year 2021.
  • Section 4201 – The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) reauthorization and innovative financing for state loan funds: This section reauthorizes the WIFIA program and removes the pilot designation of this program. This section provides important amendments to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies with federal credit instruments to enter into an agreement with the EPA to service loans for their programs. This section also creates a new financing program within WIFIA for states to be able to bundle smaller projects. This section improves the process for state applications and provides additional sources of funding for State Infrastructure Financing Authorities applying for WIFIA loans, also known as the Securing Required Funding for Water Infrastructure Now. This section expedites the evaluation of these applications and places the application fee on the SRFs, removing the burden on the communities. It prevents these combined projects from having to do any additional environmental reviews and allows for the federal cost share of the project to cover up to 100 percent of the total project cost. This section ensures that the current SRF and WIFIA funds are protected. This is an innovative financing program former Senator Barbara Boxer came up with that Western Growers strongly supported. We believe that it is good that it is on steady ground and no longer a pilot.

This bipartisan water infrastructure bill has been sent to President Trump for signing.