Merkley Announces Major Wins for Oregon in 2020 Water Resources Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, announced today that the Senate’s 2020 water resources legislation contains major victories for communities across Oregon.

Merkley has spent months working with community leaders all over the state developing detailed proposals to address local challenges. As a member of the EPW Committee, Merkley was involved in bipartisan negotiations to develop today’s legislation, and fought hard to include Oregon’s priorities. The draft legislation passed the Senate EPW Committee with significant bipartisan support this morning.

“From coastal communities whose ports power their local economies, to cities and towns all across Oregon that need clean and affordable drinking water, this legislation is a big victory for Oregon,” said Merkley. “Water is essential to our health and our economy. I fought for major investments in our water and port infrastructure because these investments will create jobs now and benefit our communities’ well-being for many years into the future.”

With committee passage today, the next step for the legislation is consideration by the full Senate.

Specific victories in today’s legislation include:

Helping Smaller Communities With Technical Support for Water Treatment: Many communities in Oregon have expressed how difficult it is to access the technical knowledge and professional guidance needed to design and finance water projects, and requested an expert to travel from community to community to discuss the best strategies for success. That’s exactly what Senator Merkley got into the bill: authorization for $10 million per year to fund a program made up of experts that can travel to communities to offer on the ground assistance and support to owners and operators of small and medium public-owned treatment works.

Willamette Locks Transfer: The Willamette Falls Locks are an old Army Corps property that a local entity has proposed redeveloping for the benefit of the local community. This redevelopment cannot take place until the Locks are “deauthorized” by the Army Corps. Senator Merkley successfully included a provision allowing the Corps—after performing upgrades and making the site suitable for use—to deauthorize and transfer the Locks to a local Commission.

Army Corps Assistance for Projects in Hood River, Bandon, and Astoria: Senator Merkley successfully included a provision that will require the Army Corps to assist local communities in Oregon with preparing for their 7001 consultation process. This is the first step to being included in the Army Corps’ 7001 Report, which enables the project to be federally authorized and funded.

The local projects that will be assisted by this provision are:

  • Hood River Salmon Recovery: Study existing habitat conditions and recommend actions that will improve salmon habitat functions at the mouth of the Hood River and its confluence with the Columbia River.
  • Dredging at the Coquille River/Port of Bandon: Study how the Corps can assist the Port of Bandon with an increase in silting and shoaling adjacent to, but outside of, the federal channel, which is currently dredged by the Corps.
  • Dredging at the Port of Astoria: Study the capability of the Corps to increase the frequency and depth of its dredging of the Port to allow the Port to focus on its landside infrastructure.

Helping Small Communities Move Army Corps Projects Forward: Many small and disadvantaged communities want to implement Corps-related projects, but don’t have the resources to meet local cost-sharing requirements. This provision establishes a cost-waiver program under which communities who need it can get local cost share reduction of anywhere from 10 to 100 percent, allowing many more communities to implement or construct beneficial projects, including for storm damage reduction.

Addressing Microplastics Pollution: Microplastics and microfibers have become ubiquitous in our water supply, threatening both human health and our environment. Building off of his previous bipartisan work to address the microplastics crisis, Senator Merkley was able to successfully include a provision in today’s bill to create a grant program that will begin to tackle this urgent public health threat. This $10 million grant program will provide funding to wastewater treatment plants that want to improve their facilities to reduce and remove microplastics and microfibers from their treated water.

Cutting Red Tape to Help Local Communities Access WIFIA Loans: Senator Merkley created the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program to help local communities access affordable financing for water infrastructure projects, after hearing from local leaders across Oregon about the difficulty of securing affordable loans for these essential projects. In today’s legislation, Senator Merkley successfully included a provision that will make it easier for smaller communities to access WIFIA loans, by removing an overly burdensome requirement that WIFIA applicants provide two credit rating letters. Getting a second letter is often a time-consuming and unnecessary expense for applicants that lengthens the application process. Today’s provision instead changes the requirement to one opinion letter sufficient to determine creditworthiness, smoothing the application process and making it easier for local communities to move ahead with projects that will provide critical water infrastructure updates and create jobs at the same time.

Helping Small and Underserved Communities Access Water Efficiency Upgrades: Many small or disadvantaged communities have trouble accessing—or, in some cases, are barred from accessing—federal programs to help them with water efficiency measures. Senator Merkley successfully included a provision to create a grant program specifically designed to help entities like this replace or repair equipment designed to improve water efficiency. This program would help smaller and underserved communities in Oregon and across America access badly needed resources to make these upgrades to water systems.

Using Leftover Dredging Material to Help Local Communities: Dredged materials are left over after the Corps constructs a new project or dredges a harbor or channel. This provision requires that the Corps evaluate the environmental benefits and impacts of reusing that material to create natural infrastructure.

Investing in Alternative Wastewater Systems: This provision reauthorizes a grant program that helps entities with the engineering, design, and construction of alternative water source projects, including anything that improves the conservation, management, reclamation, or reuse of water, stormwater, or wastewater. This program helps to conserve water resources across the nation and to invest in new strategies that could assist with water conservation and reuse in the decades to come.