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America's GPA: D+
Estimated Investment Needed by 2020:
$3.6 Trillion

A Big WIIN For Water Resources

December 15th, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

Shortly after 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, the U.S. Senate passed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which included a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) title by a vote of 78-21. The vote was one of the final acts of the 114th Congress. The House passed the same bill a few days earlier by a vote of 360-61.President Obama is expected to sign the bill in the next few days. This bill had been months—and in some ways years—in the making. Since the beginning WIIN Thank Youof this year, ASCE has been actively working on getting a water resources bill passed, and restoring it to a two-year cycle. In February, ASCE provided Congressional testimony before both the Senate and House on the importance of passing a new water resources bill. The final bill includes several of our priorities, including the creation of a High Hazard Dam Rehabilitation program and other important infrastructure programs, including authorization of 30 new projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. ASCE members sent nearly 5,000 emails to Capitol Hill urging passage during the final days of debate on the bill. Those final few days before the bill’s passage were fraught with consternation as a provision inserted last minute to assist with drought relief to western states rattled environmentalists and the bill’s primary Democratic author, California Senator Barbara Boxer, who worried that water transfers could affect the health of fishery populations. Those concerns did peel off nearly two dozen democratic votes in the Senate, however, the bill ultimately passed with strong bipartisan support. While Congress has vowed to pass a water resources bill every two years (the last one passed in 2014, but before that 2007) the authorization components of the bill still must be funded through annual appropriations. The 114th Congress concluded by passing a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open and running through April 2017. This sort of stopgap funding measure is not the type of major injections of infrastructure investment necessary to reduce the estimated $1.6 trillion infrastructure funding gap that is expected by 2020.  We are hopeful that the 115th Congress will work diligently to fund infrastructure programs and increase federal appropriations to important programs. In the meantime, thank your Members of Congress who voted for WIIN by sending an email. For more, read Congress Unveils Compromise Water Resources Bill

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Congress Unveils Compromise Water Resources Bill

December 6th, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

Congressional negotiators released a newly rebranded water infrastructure bill this week after months of hashing out differences between their respective Water Resources Development Acts (S.2848 and H.R.5303) that each chamber passed earlier this year. The new bill, dubbed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act or WIIN Act not only includes a traditional Army Corps project authorization title, but also other water infrastructure programs such as aid to Flint, Mich. to assist in lead pipe replacement and provisions to help California with drought relief.  The American Society of Civil Engineers sent letters of support to House and Senate leadership. The compromise bill also includes a high-hazard dam rehabilitation and repair program, which was included in the original Senate version of WRDA that passed by a vote of 95-3. Here a few selected sections to keep an eye on: Title I: Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (Army Corps of Engineers projects) Sec. 1108 Funding for Harbor Maintenance Programs Changes the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) formula established in WRRDA 2014 to ensure distribution of funds will be 3% higher than the total resources from the year before.  This ensures that distributions continue to increase, year-over-year, until 100% distribution of the funds in the HMTF are used for their intended purpose. Sec. 1111 Harbor Deepening Allows for a 75 percent federal share on harbor deepening projects up to 50 feet. With new Post-Panamax size ships entering U.S. ports, this provision allows a 75 percent federal cost-share for new construction (not just maintenance) up to 50 feet deep. The federal share was previously 50 percent for new construction deeper than 45 feet. Sec. 1122 Beneficial Use of Dredged Material Establishes a new pilot program for the beneficial use of dredge material. The pilot program allows the Army Corps to undertake 10 projects that would use dredge material for reducing storm surge, promote public safety, enhance aquatic habitat and stabilize shorelines. Importantly, the extra cost of using the material will be covered by the Corps, rather than the non-federal sponsor. Sec. 1184 Considerations of Measures Requires the Corps, in consultation with a non-federal project sponsor to consider the use of natural and nature based features for costal water resources projects. Title II: Water and Wastewater Act of 2016 Sec. 2101 Sense of Congress on Appropriation of Levels While it’s not compulsory, this section provides language that supports a theme President-Elect Trump supports: increasing appropriations to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Sec. 2201 Drinking Water Infrastructure Provides funds to assist Flint, Michigan to replace lead service lines. Sec. 2202 Sense of Congress Provides $20,000,000 for Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. Title III: Natural Resources Sec. 3801 Reauthorization of Water Desalination Act of 1996 Reauthorizes $40 million for research, design and construction program to advance desalination. Sec. 5006 Rehabilitation of High Hazard Potential Dams Establishes a high hazard dam repair, rehabilitation or removal grant program under the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Authorized at $445 million over ten years. Stay tuned to the @ASCEgovrel Twitter for progress on the bill in the coming days.

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Help Get WRDA Finished

December 2nd, 2016 | By: Becky Moylan

With plans for Congress to adjourn at the end of next week, the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 is still waiting for final passage. The bill is being conferenced by the House and Senate, which has been making good progress on a compromised bill that incorporates parts of each chamber’s version of WRDA. However, in the past 24 hours there have been some political roadblocks that may put a final bill in jeopardy. To help raise the grades for dams, inland waterways, levees, ports, and drinking water we need you to take action now! Call the House and Senate Leaders, House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and ask them to move WRDA to the floor for a vote before Congress adjourns for the year. Together we can help WRDA cross the finish line in 2016, getting it back on the two-year cycle that authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other water resources programs.

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Stakeholders Weighing on Final Water Resources Package

November 3rd, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

As the last remaining standalone infrastructure bill with a chance of becoming law this year, stakeholders for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016 are beginning to double down on their priorities by weighing in with the leaders charged with reconciling difference in the House passed and Senate passed versions. The House and Senate both passed WRDA bills before heading home for the campaign season. Here are a few letters infrastructure stakeholders have sent to Committee Leadership this week to help get this bill cross the finish line and become law   Full Use of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Groups such as the National Manufacturing Association, American Society of Civil Engineers and American Association of Port Authorities signed a letter to advance language in Sec. 2003 of S.2848, which would ensure that the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is allocated the fullest extent practicable each year. Drinking Water and Clean Water Organizations representing the nation’s drinking water and wastewater utilities, including the American Society of Civil Engineers, National Association of Clean Water Administrators and Association for Metropolitan Water Agencies urged congress to adopt Title VII of S.2848, which would provide important policy changes and authorizations to improve our nations drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Natural and Nature Based Features Conservation groups, such as the Nature Conservancy and engineering groups like CH2M and the American Society of Civil Engineers teamed up to support language in the House WRDA bill that promote the use of natural and nature based features in water resources development projects. In addition to stakeholder letters, several Senators sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the Environment & Public Works Committee and the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee encouraging inclusion of the dam rehabilitation provision. The House and Senate have just a few short weeks to reconcile the differences in their respective WRDA bills, but a 95-3 vote in the Senate and 399-25 vote in the House, we’re confident Congress will send a new WRDA bill to President Obama before the end of the year.

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WRDA Passes The House

September 29th, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5303 the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 late yesterday afternoon by a vote of 399-25. The $11.5 billion bill authorizes over three dozen Army Corps of Engineers flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration projects and studies across the country.  In addition to the base text reported out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee nearly 40 amendments were added to the bill on the House floor. The final amendment to the bill authorizes $170 million in aid for Flint, Michigan to assist with the drinking water crisis. For months Congress has been struggling with how to respond to the drinking water issue in Flint. At one point earlier this week, democrats were prepared to shut down the government unless the Flint issue was resolved. Around midnight Tuesday, leaders agreed to address Flint in the House WRDA bill, which cleared the way for both short term government spending bill and gave WRDA the votes necessary to pass. Prior to the Flint amendment, democrats threatened to block the bill because another provision requiring funds in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to be spent every year was stripped out last minute. Democrats led by T&I Ranking Member Peter Defazio (D-OR) wanted to ensure the HMTF was used to the fullest extent each year, whereas now its funds are subject to an unpredictable annual appropriations process. The House WRDA bill is much narrower than the version passed in the Senate two weeks ago by a vote of 95-3. The Senate bill includes a similar list of Army Corps projects, $220 million for Flint and an entirely separate title dedicated to improving the nations drinking water and clean water infrastructure. The additional water infrastructure programs will be the subject of intense the negotiations between Senate and House staff while Congress is home campaigning prior to the November election. When congress returns for the lame duck session in December, the hope is there will be agreement on a WRDA bill that both chambers can easily pass and send to the President’s desk. Congress has committed to passing a WRDA bill every two years, with the last one passing in 2014. Prior to that WRDA bills passed in 2007 and 2000.

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White House Holds Summit to Discuss Disaster Financing and Resilient Recovery

August 3rd, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

On Wednesday the White House hosted a Forum on Smart Finance for Disaster Resilience to “highlight innovations in disaster mitigation and resilience finance, including emerging public-private collaborations with banking, insurance, and financial services sectors.” According to NOAA the U.S. has sustained 196 weather and climate disasters since 1980 where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion. The total cost of these 196 events exceeds $1.1 trillion. Flooding alone caused for $260 billion in damages from 1980 to 2013. Just this week a 1-in-1,000-year flood event caused significant damage and tragic loss of life in the historic town of Ellicott City, Maryland. West Virginia, Texas, Illinois and South Carolina have all experienced significant flood events in the last three years. As the federal government, insurance companies and local recovery programs assist these communities, it’s important to consider tools that can be used to help reduce similar losses in the future. Resilient design standards, changes to insurance policies, and green bonds were all topics of discussion at the White House event. The idea of resilient recovery has become more common following Hurricane Sandy in 2012 when high wind and coastal storm surge devastated the Northeast at a cost of $67 billion. Redefining the role of the federal government in disaster recovery, properly balancing risk for private insurers and encouraging home owners to strengthen their homes (see the FORTIFIED Program) are all good starts. Key to ensuring that infrastructure is built safe and strong lies with the engineers who design it. However, the engineering profession has for too long relied on historical data for its design parameters, when a paradigm shift is needed to design for future conditions. With more than 50 percent of Americans living in coastal counties, key infrastructure (e.g. ports and energy facilities) and evacuation routes are increasingly vulnerable to impacts like higher sea levels, storm surges, and flooding. Inland communities face similar problems of riverine flooding, drought and forest fire. While there’s no one right answer, the White House forum demonstrated it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. With the right policies and building codes in place, combined with emergency planning, people can live and safely and comfortably in their community. The Department of Housing and Urban Development offers resources to help guide communities in the financing of high performing infrastructure.  The days of free unhinged disaster response funds are likely behind us, and requiring communities to build stronger will keep us safer and ultimately save money and lives in the long run.

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Talk to your Members of Congress About Infrastructure this Recess

July 21st, 2016 | By: Becky Moylan

Members of Congress headed home (and to their respective national conventions last week) and won’t return to Washington until after Labor Day. This gives you, as an infrastructure advocate, the opportunity to talk with your federal lawmakers about our nation’s “D+” infrastructure and specific legislation that they can pass this year to help improve it. The first is the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The Senate version of this bill authorizes 25 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects in 17 states. It would also authorize a much needed dam rehabilitation program. The House also has a version of this bill, which has a narrower scope. WRDA bills are most effective when they are passed every two years. Since the last was signed into law in the summer of 2014, it’s time for Congress to pass another bill. If you’re going to see one of your Senators or Representative and want to talk about WRDA, check out this more extensive backgrounder on the WRDA bills S. 2848 and H.R. 5303. With the passage of the FAST Act last December, many Members of Congress feel like they can ignore surface transportation for another 4.5 years. Help us remind them they can’t! Because the gas tax rate has not kept up with inflation, the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) has been on the brink of insolvency many times in the past several years. Instead of addressing the HTF’s long-term solvency problem, Congress has relied on general funds transfers for the pas t eight years to prop up the fund, including most recently in the FAST Act. Congress needs to take action to fix the trust fund and ensure its long-term stability. Congressional leaders have been talking about doing a big push on tax reform next year. Remind your Members of Congress to include the HTF.
ASCE State Advoacy Captain Stephan Durham and Rep Jody Hice (GA-R)

ASCE State Advoacy Captain Stephan Durham and Rep Jody Hice (GA-R)

Another piece of legislation important to our nation’s infrastructure is the FAA reauthorization bill. The bill has been undergoing a series of short-term extensions as of late and while a 14.5-month reauthorization bill was just enacted, it did nothing to address our underinvestment in aviation infrastructure. As you travel this summer, there’s a good chance you saw an airport that could use some upgrades—as aviation received a “D” grade in the Report Card. Congress can help fix our airports by increasing funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which is a major source of cash for infrastructure upgrades. They should also increase or even eliminate the cap Passenger Facility Charges (PFC)—user fees levied by airports you pay when you book a flight. Right now PFCs are capped at $4.50 per trip segment, which hasn’t been modified since 2001. Raising or eliminating the cap would allow airports to invest in themselves to the benefit of air travelers. Ask your Senators and Representative to pass a long-term FAA bill that invests in America’s aviation future. To ensure our infrastructure has engineers to design, build, and maintain it in the future, talk to your Members of Congress about the Pre-College Engineering Education Act (H.R. 5679). This bill focuses on engineering part of STEM, and would introduce students to modern engineering tools such as computer-aided design while underscoring the value of professional licensure. If you’re interested of seizing summer recess to talk to your federal lawmakers, here’s a few ways to participate:
  • Visit your Senators’ and Representative’s websites to find out what public events they have scheduled
  • Call your Members of Congress’ District Office and ask to schedule a meeting
  • Use our online advocacy website to send emails to your Members of Congress on these and other infrastructure issues
  • Invite your Members of Congress to come to your group’s meeting (e.g. ASCE section event, PTA, Rotary Club)
  • And, if you’re lucky enough to have a more personal connection with a Member, take a few minutes to discuss infrastructure issues and why they matter at your neighborhood barbecue.
Election Day is not the only way to have your voice be heard. Take these next few weeks to share your thoughts with our nation’s lawmakers and tell them it’s time to invest in our infrastructure—because it will save the typical American family $3,400 a year.  

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Florida’s Infrastructure Needs to Keep up with Growth

July 14th, 2016 | By: America's Infrastructure Report Card

1Impact of Florida’s Infrastructure

Infrastructure is the backbone of Florida’s economy and a necessary part of every Floridian’s day. The Florida Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers released the 2016 Report Card for Florida’s Infrastructure on Thursday, July 14. The report includes an evaluation of the state’s aviation, bridges, coastal areas, drinking water, energy, ports, roads, schools, stormwater, transit, and wastewater (see grades below).

Keeping Up With Growth

One of the key findings from this report is that Florida is growing, and the State’s infrastructure needs a growth spurt of its own to keep up. Recently Florida’s population has grown at a rate of about 1% per year, adding about 1 million people, which is the equivalent of adding a city the size of Jacksonville every 5 years. Some cities and counties are stepping up their efforts, but more needs to be done across the state by every infrastructure owner. The good news is that investments in areas like bridges and smart technology investment solutions seen in ports and airports are raising Florida’s grades. As Florida grows, investing in infrastructure must be Florida’s top priority to continue to be the place people want to live and work as well as attract visitors from around the country and the world.  

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Raising the Grade: How the 2016 Water Resources Development Act Can Improve America’s Ports and Inland Waterways

July 7th, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

In this second post of a three-part blog series, we’re looking at projects, policy changes and programs included in S. 2848, the Water Resources Development Act of 2016. Read about how WRDA can improve Dams and Levees. Now up, Ports and Inland Waterways Ports and Inland Waterways: Improving the Movement of Goods and Commerce The U.S. inland waterway system consists of over 12,000 miles of inland and intra-coastal waterways, with over 240 lock chambers, along with over 300 commercial harbors. Domestically, 5% of all tonnage moved in the U.S. and almost 4% of the total value of all freight transported over the entire U.S. transportation system is moved by water. In the last two years significant strides have been made to address the infrastructure challenges faced by ports and inland waterways. Funding and grants for multimodal freight in the FAST Act, updates to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) and increasing the diesel fuel fee to increase collections by the Inland Waterway Trust Fund have all been viewed as positive steps.  However, under current authorized funding levels, there is an estimated $11 billion in unmet needs. The Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (S.2848) extends several provisions included in WRDA14, makes important changes to maintenance and deepening programs, and authorizes several new studies and reports. One of the benefits of keeping WRDA bills on a two year cycle is that policy changes, including those in the prior cycle that did not work as intended can be tweaked. This is exactly the case for the HMTF.  WRDA14 set percentage goals for HMTF expenditures (e.g. in 2016  spend 69% of the receipts from 2015, in 2017 spend 71% of the receipts from 2016). A slowdown in the global economy decreased HMTF receipts (which is funded by a tax placed on the value of goods) and therefore the annual percentage goals, while higher than the year before, were still lower in actual dollars. The HMTF is still flush with cash that ports dutifully collected for maintenance and need to prepare for a post-Panamax world. WRDA16 provides a backstop for HMTF and ensures funds will continue to be allocated incrementally higher each year. Another major provision that will help U.S. ports accommodate post-Panamax ships is to increase the federally authorized depth of projects from 45 to 50 feet. The current cost-share depth for navigation channel deepening was established in WRDA 1986 at a 75 percent federal/25 percent non-federal split for depths to 45 feet, and an even 50 percent split for depths greater than 45 feet. WRDA 2014 revised the maintenance dredging cost-share depth to 50 feet from 45 feet. WRDA16 will follow WRDA14 by applying the same cost share for deepening projects. Taken together WRDA16 is a positive step for improving the nation’s ports and inland waterways. In our next blog post, we will explore how drinking water and wastewater are addressed in this year’s WRDA bills.

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Momentum for Water Resources Bill Builds; 30 Republican Senators Urge Floor Time

June 30th, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

While gun control and a Puerto Rico debt restructuring package were the central focus of the Senate in the last 10 legislative days, momentum for bringing a major, bipartisan water resources bill to the Senate floor before summer recess is growing in the halls of Congress. Efforts to bring S.2848 the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which first passed out of the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) on April 28, made significant headway as 93 WRDA stakeholders urged action on the bill last week. This week that letter was followed by 30 Republican Senators sending a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to take up the bill. The letter writes that WRDA “contains substantive reforms and authorizations that prepare our nation to compete in the global marketplace, strengthen protections for coastal and inland communities from disastrous floodwaters, modernize Corps policy to ensure efficient and effective project delivery, and create mechanisms to provide affordable clean water and safe drinking water infrastructure.” The letter from Senate Republicans went on to declare that passing WRDA 2016 would be a “victory for all Americans,” and asked that the bill be brought to the floor for passage before the summer recess. It also stated that the legislation would prove Congress can effectively provide bipartisan results to citizens, and will save taxpayers $6 million over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Finally, on Wednesday morning Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) – the legislation’s main sponsor – took to the Senate floor to discuss the importance of the bill. In his speech, Sen. Inhofe discussed major port deepening projects necessary for post Panamax ships, showed pictures of busted water mains and endangered ecosystems – all issues that would be aided through this bill. Calling WRDA a “must-pass bill,” Senator Inhofe emphasized the importance of returning to the original cycle of passing WRDA legislation once every two years. The Chairman of the Senate EPW Committee, Inhofe also praised several key provisions of the bill that would help communities meet their water resources needs while allowing them to prioritize the projects addressing the greatest public health risks.  Regarding the state of America’s water infrastructure, he asserted that, “This is not a partisan problem, this is a national crisis.” With a 91-7 vote on the 2014 WRDA bill, many expect this bill could garner and even stronger vote count. But the question isn’t about support for the legislation- it’s about timing. The Senate recesses on July 15th and many believe the best shot for bringing the bill to the floor is the week of July 11th as votes on immigration have been scheduled following the July 4th weekend. If the Senate does in fact take up WRDA before the summer recess, focus will shift to the House, where a much smaller and more Army Corps focused bill passed unanimously out of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on May 25.  

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