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

Congressional Hearings Focus on Aviation, Flood Control

March 3rd, 2017 | By: Whitford Remer

As the President’s repeated in his address to Congress his pledge to dramatically increase infrastructure spending to the tune of $1 trillion, various Congressional Committees have been holding hearings to explore the need. While the hearings reflect broad and even growing support on Capitol Hill for infrastructure spending, they also illustrate major hurdles, chief among them and one that has bedeviled infrastructure advocates for a very long time, how to pay for it. On the House side, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has begun a series of hearings to highlight the need among specific infrastructure categories. Using the title “Building a 21st Century for America,” the hearings explore the federal role in several infrastructure categories. On March 1st, the Committee’s Aviation Subcommittee looked at the state of the nation’s airports, with a panel of airport executives including Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and the Greater Asheville (NC) Regional Airport Authority. The executives noted different challenges faced by different sized airports and the need for flexibility, both in how they are able to spend grant money received through the Airports Improvement Program (AIP) and the ability to set the appropriate level for the Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs) that airports can charge, which has been capped by Congress at $4.50. During the hearing, full Committee Ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio (D-OR) announced he had joined with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) in offering legislation to remove the cap on PFCs and permitting airports to set the level as they see fit. The panel also noted that under the new pricing policies instituted by airlines, while the ticket tax that funds the AIP is applied to the basic ticket, additional charges such as baggage fees are not subject to the tax, costing the program millions of dollars. Finally, both members of the Committee and the panelist agreed that the recent pattern of short-term authorizations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its programs has made it hard to make long-term plans and have increased the cost of the capital projects. ASCE strongly agrees with the airport executives and supports increasing funding for the AIP, removing the cap from the PFCs and longer-term authorization for the FAA. Meanwhile in the Senate, the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing titled “Flood Control Infrastructure: Safety Questions Raised by Current Events.” The hearing was prompted in large part by the recent spillway deteriorations and ensuing evacuations around California’s Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the nation. Among the witnesses were Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite, Commanding General and Chief of Engineers U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Larry Larson, Director Emeritus & Senior Policy Advisor for Association of State Floodplain Manager. General Seminote talked about his agency’s role in providing flood protection infrastructure across the country. Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) pressed the General on the Agency’s benefit-cost analysis formula for selecting projects, which relies, in-part, on property value. Sen. Barrassso, the new Chairman of the Committee emphasized this type of formula pitted urban project against more rural projects in his home state of Wyoming. Larry Larson and several Senators also raised the important point that there are flood control programs authorized by Congress in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 and Water Resources Development Act of 2016 that have not received any federal funding. Larry Larson also told the panel that private funding will not cover the full cost for dam and levee repair. “Our experience shows that financial incentives are very difficult to apply to these projects,” adding that that federal funding would be needed.

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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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A Plan for Aging Dams

October 20th, 2016 | By: Becky Moylan

Earlier this week, the Center for American Progress(CAP) released a report on U.S. dams, Aging Dams and Clogged Rivers: An Infrastructure Plan for U.S. Waterways. The report makes the economic case for the need to increase investment in our infrastructure, citing ASCE’s Failure to Act economic study that found we’re currently paying about half our nation’s infrastructure bill across 10 categories of infrastructure. It also points to the safety risks of this underinvestment, particularly given the “D” grade for our nation’s dams in the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. The report was released with a panel discussion with stakeholders ranging from the Nez Perce Tribe to the Deputy Secretary of the Interior. Dams tend to be among the more forgotten pieces of infrastructure, given attention primarily when something goes wrong. This report is helping to raise awareness about the importance of dam infrastructure, and the challenges our nation’s 84,000 aging dams are facing. While many dams perform useful purposes, such as drinking water, irrigation, hydropower, flood control, and recreation. However, others have outlived their useful lives, no longer serving the purpose for which they were intended. Repairing, rehabilitating, and removing dams is costly. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that it will require an investment of $21 billion to repair aging, yet critical, high-hazard dams. But there are solutions that can help address these challenges, increasing our dam safety. One is in Senate’s version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which creates a national dam rehabilitation program to repair, rehabilitate, and remove non-federal dams. It is now up to the leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to include this valuable program in the final version of the bill. CAP’s report also includes policy recommendations to increase our dam safety, including incentivizing the removal of obsolete dams and modernizing dams the are providing useful service. Stay tuned to find out if the National Dam Rehabilitation Program comes to fruition.

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Congress Returns to Town — Zika, Federal Budget and Water Resources Legislation All At Play

September 6th, 2016 | By: Becky Moylan

Coming off a long summer break, Congress returns today to several realities it left unfinished in June. While a Water Resources bill is the top opportunity for infrastructure policy, other pressing issues may take precedence. In the warm months since leaving town, the Zika virus has spread across Florida and its reach is expected to continue growing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to run out of funds to combat the virus by the end of this month. Legislation to provide additional funding has stalled while legislators clash over Republicans’ inclusion of a prohibition on funding going to family planning medical clinics. In a case of reoccurring déjà vu, Congress must also pass a bill to fund government agencies, before fiscal year 2016 funding expires on September 30th. Congress is meant to pass 12 separate appropriations bills each year to fund the federal government, but this rarely happens. Instead spending bills are usually combined into a single “omnibus” bill. If Congress thinks it won’t be able to pass an appropriations bill(s) before the end of the fiscal year, it passes a continuing resolution (CR) which extends the previous year’s funding levels with minor changes. With the House having passed only five appropriations bills and the Senate having only passed three, they are now expected to turn their focus to a CR. The length of the CR is up for debate. For some Senate Republicans, who are in jeopardy of losing Senate control to Democrats, passing a longer-term (i.e. six month) CR would mean “giving away the store” to Democrats. They would prefer a two-month CR, leaving them in the majority for passing an omnibus during a lame-duck session. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would also like a short-term CR and has said he opposes any bill that goes past December. Outside conservative groups and some House Republicans want a longer-term deal—at least in to the new year/new Congress—to avoid a year-end deal-making session between a lame-duck Congress and a lame-duck President in which Democrats could force Republicans to accept additional spending or risk a shutdown at Christmastime. One glimmer of hope in all the legislative fights left on the calendar is consideration of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016. Each chamber has passed a version of the major water infrastructure bill out of committee and the bill now awaits floor action. In an election cycle that generally sees political messaging bills over bipartisan infrastructure bills, moving a WRDA would be an exception. WRDA bills authorize important navigation, flood control and ecosystem restoration projects and studies at the Army Corps of Engineers. The Senate bill (S. 2848) also included several drinking water and clean water infrastructure programs.  

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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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Broad Coalition Asks Senate to Pass Water Resources Bill

June 23rd, 2016 | By: Becky Moylan

On Wednesday an initial group of 87 organizations–now up to 93–asked in a letter that the U.S. Senate pass the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA; S.2848) before leaving for summer recess. The coalition, led by the American Society of Civil Engineers, includes a wide range of interests—demonstrating the impact that WRDA has on many industries, and the benefits of this infrastructure to Americans. Among the signers are The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Counties, the Labors International Union of North America, Water Environment Federation, the National League of Cities, the National Association of Manufacturers, and dozens more. Water resource bills were once viewed as so important that Congressional leaders tried to pass one every two years. The legislation is the main mechanism for authorizing new projects at the Army Corps of Engineers—the nation’s largest manager of flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration projects. WRDA also authorizes funding for improvement projects for ports, inland harbors, waterways, dams, and flood control systems. The last bill was passed was passed in the 2014, by a 91-7 vote in the Senate and a 412-4 vote in the House. However, before 2014, the process had lapsed for seven years. By passing a bill this summer, WRDA can get back on track for an every two years cycle. You can share your support of WRDA by sending a letter to your Senators.

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This Week in Infrastructure: Water Infrastructure Incurs More Attention

March 13th, 2015 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

Amidst the visible need for highway, bridge and pothole repairs, we often forget the growing needs of our nation’s water infrastructure. According to ASCE’s Report Card, there are 240,000 water main breaks per year and trillions of gallons of water are lost each year due to “leaky pipes, broken water mains and faulty meters.” Cities throughout the nation, including Toledo and Philadelphia, are dealing with water main breaks and struggling to pay for the upkeep and improvements of their water infrastructure. In the past 30 years, Philadelphia has had between 439 and 1,316 water main breaks per year. These types of water issues underscore the need for significant investment. To combat this growing problem, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) established the Global Smart Cities Challenge, which will showcase wireless networks’ ability to power every day solutions for large utility problems. Using wireless sensor technology, water utilities can proactively locate and fix leaks, monitor decreases or increases in water pressure and monitor video feeds which ensure security for critical water distribution infrastructure. In addition to drinking and wastewater infrastructure, America’s waterways are also in need of investment and maintenance. Waterways Council Inc. (WCI), a group that advocates for modernizing the national system of ports and inland waterways, is pushing for more federal funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, which is chiefly responsible for building and maintaining water infrastructure. In a letter they sent to the House and Senate, WCI and more than 40 organizations advocated for increased funding to address maritime transportation emphasizing that, “we must maintain our navigation channels and inland waterways for safe and efficient freight.” WCI and other inland waterways stakeholders are hoping for successful allocation of WRRDA funding and sound use of the increased revenue to the trust fund. Ultimately, water infrastructure needs just as much attention as our transportation infrastructure. Nevertheless, it is still critical that Congress work quickly to pass legislation to provide a sustainable, long-term funding solution to #FixTheTrustFund.

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