Job-Creating Water Infrastructure Bill Passes Congress

Washington, DC – Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced today that the House and Senate have passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which includes key job creation and funding opportunities for Oregon communities. The legislation previously passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in April and the Senate in September; it will now be signed into law by the President.

In particular, the Senators highlighted that the bill would make permanent a provision ensuring that small ports in Oregon and elsewhere receive funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). The bill also helps channel $20 million in funding for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), which Senator Merkley developed to help local communities finance safe drinking and wastewater infrastructure projects. The $20 million in initial funding could leverage over $200 million in low-interest loans for communities to finance safe drinking and wastewater infrastructure projects.

“Water infrastructure is absolutely essential to our health and economy alike. Senator Wyden and I have been fighting for these Oregon water infrastructure wins, and I’m thrilled to see them included in the bill passed today,” said Merkley. “From keeping communities safe with modernized drinking water systems, to expanding economic opportunities and putting folks back to work with good-paying jobs, these projects will have a real impact across Oregon.”

“Small ports serve as economic linchpins up and down the Oregon Coast, providing a terrific trifecta of benefits – crucial access for commercial and recreational fishing, safe harbor for ocean science and research vessels, and the nation’s gateway to the global economy,” Wyden said. “That’s why I am so glad this water bill includes stable, permanent funding for these ports that generate good-paying jobs and revenues for coastal communities.”

Senators Merkley and Wyden have consistently fought in the Senate to make sure that the HMTF is used for its intended purpose of maintaining ports rather than being raided to pay for other priorities, and that small ports in America receive a share of this funding. For small coastal communities in Oregon, access to funding for dredging is crucial to the economy. As a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Merkley was able to pass a 10% set-aside for small ports in 2014; however, the set-aside was scheduled to expire in 2022. The legislation makes the 10% set-aside permanent.

In almost every town hall meeting that Senators Merkley and Wyden hold, in every corner of Oregon, they hear about the challenges that local communities are having finding funding to replace or upgrade aging water infrastructure. Clean drinking water and modern wastewater treatment systems are critical for public health and safety, strong local businesses, population growth, and clean rivers and aquifers. Incidents like the recent crisis in Flint, Michigan underscore the dangers that can result when the safety of our drinking water and state of our water infrastructure are not made a priority.

Additional provisions included in today’s legislation that will deliver benefits to Oregon communities include:

·         Authorizing the Columbia River Restoration Act so that the EPA can set up a voluntary grant program to incentivize cleanup along the Columbia River.

·         Expanding water infrastructure financing options to local water irrigation districts, which will help Central Oregon irrigation districts implement water conservation projects to address the spotted frog challenge and assist local farmers and ranchers.

·         Working to provide adequate housing and resources for Tribes along the Columbia River by authorizing relocation assistance to Native families displaced by the construction of Bonneville Dam, and by authorizing a study of Native families displaced by the John Day Dam to determine if there is an unmet obligation for relocation assistance.

·         Providing Oregonians better access to the Giles French Park in Rufus, Oregon, by allowing the Army Corps of Engineers to let a non-Federal government entity collect users fees for recreation sites and facilities. 

·         Giving the Port of Cascade Locks greater economic development opportunities along its waterfront by clarifying an out-of-date easement.

·         Expanding water craft inspection stations to cover the entire Columbia River Basin to protect our lakes and waterways from invasive species, such as the zebra mussel.

Despite fighting hard for Oregon priorities in the bill, Merkley and Wyden voted against it due to the last-minute addition of California drought provisions that threaten thousands of jobs at Oregon and West Coast fisheries.