Senate Passes Water Infrastructure Bill, Critical Step towards Modernizing Oregon’s Waterways and Ports

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced Senate passage of critical priorities for Oregon that were included in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022.

“For much of Oregon, our coast and our rivers are the beating heart of our communities, and whether the ports, levees, dams, and other water infrastructure are up to snuff can dictate whether families and business thrive or are at risk from extreme weather events. That’s why I fought so hard to make sure this bill delivers for Oregon,” said Merkley, who serves on the committee that writes the bill. “The Senate’s WRDA supports Oregon’s 23 working ports – making sure they are properly maintained and continue to serve the families and businesses who depend on them for a living, while keeping workers and communities safe. The bill also authorizes investments in flood management – something that our nation will need even more as we continue to fight climate chaos and make our communities more resilient for the future.”

“Modern water infrastructure throughout Oregon is vital to quality of life in communities statewide that rely on ports, levees and dams for jobs, economic activity, flood protection and more,” Wyden said. “This bill achieves those goals for Oregonians counting on these federal investments in communities large and small to build an even stronger and safer state along the Coast and waterways in every part of Oregon.”

WRDA ‘22 also continues Merkley’s work to require the federal government to finally fulfill its promise to replace tribal housing that was displaced by the creation of the Dalles Dam in the 1950s.

Some of the Oregon projects and policy initiatives in the bill include:

Columbia River Tribal Housing 

Following the 2018 WRDA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was required to create tribal housing for displaced tribal people of the Columbia River caused by the development of The Dalles Dam. The Corps responded to a 2018 congressional authorization by producing replacement village options that were not mutually acceptable to Columbia River treaty tribes. The 2022 WRDA would require the Corps to revise and then carry out the village development plan for Dalles Dam, Columbia River, Washington and Oregon to address the impacts to Indian villages and housing sites that resulted from construction of multiple dams by the Corps in the Columbia River Basin.

Portland Metro Levee System – Authorization of Portland Metro Levee System Chief’s Report

Authorization of the Army Corps of Engineers Portland Metro Levee System Chief’s Report will reduce flood risk and increase the resiliency and reliability of the 27-mile levee system along the Columbia River in the Portland metro area. The total cost of the project is $110, 498,000 and it has a benefit-to-cost ratio of 3.7 to 1.

Ecosystem Restoration General Investigation Feasibility Study for the Mill Creek Levee Project on the Walla Walla River

The Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Milton-Freewater Levee project for flood control purposes in 1951. The project reduced the historic 5-mile floodplain width to approximately 200 feet and has since impacted ecological functions within the reach. To address these ecological impacts, a feasibility study is requested to identify actions to improve floodplain-riverine processes, stop channel incision, enhance fish passage and rearing habitat, and decrease surface water seepage while having no negative impacts and likely improving flood risk management.

Nationwide Low-Head Dam Inventory

Low-head dams are engineered structures built into and across stream and river channels for a variety of important purposes. In the 1800s, low head dams were constructed across rivers and streams nationwide to provide services such as diverting water for irrigation or municipal and industrial water uses. Others are in place to prevent erosion of embankments or to control flooding impacts. The structures are numerous and widespread. Nicknamed “drowning machines,” low-head dams have proven over time to be extremely hazardous to public safety, as well as having negative impacts on fish populations and ecosystems. The bill would establish a Nationwide Low-Head Dam Inventory and a State Low-Head Dam Inventory and Rehabilitation Program to be administered by the USACE in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Lane County Environmental Infrastructure (Sec. 219) Authorization

The bill adds Lane County to the list of eligible entities to receive Section 219 (Environmental Infrastructure) funding from the USACE. This authorization will allow Lane County to pursue critical USACE assistance and funding to support water supply and storage, treatment and distribution systems, and wastewater treatment systems.

The Senate and House will now work to merge the bills.