WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) secured investments for Arkansas water infrastructure in the 2020 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), legislation President Donald Trump recently signed into law.
State water resource leaders applauded the senator’s leadership to support Arkansas water priorities.
Dennis Sternberg, Executive Director of the Arkansas Rural Water Association said, “We are very appreciative for Senator Boozman’s help and assistance to Arkansas's small and rural communities that are trying to provide safe and clean water to their citizens. We are very appreciative of the Senator's help in crafting the 2020 Water Resources and Development Act because it expands the traditional scope of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ projects to assistance with small and rural community drinking and wastewater supplies. This is very welcome and Arkansas Rural Water has continually supported Congressional efforts to direct additional Corps and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation resources to small and rural community water related projects. These projects tend to be large water infrastructure projects related to the state's historical regional water management planning - that can be crafted to be regional solutions for many proximate small and rural communities. This is helpful to our membership and an appropriate use of federal water infrastructure funding. Thank you Senator for your long-time support to build and improve public drinking water and sanitation supplies in rural Arkansas which has resulted in dramatic improvements in rural public health, a clean environment, and economic development.”
"This may be the most important thing the federal government has done for water resources and economic development in Union County,” said Robert Reynolds, Founding President, Union County Water Conservation Board and current Volunteer Advisor to the Board.
“Authorizing water supply as a Ouachita/Black River project purpose protects not only the abundant alternative surface water supply above Thatcher Dam, it protects the underground Sparta aquifer, Union County’s only source of drinking water. By providing the lightly treated Ouachita River water to major users as an alternative to Sparta aquifer groundwater, the Union County Water Conservation Board and its customers ensure the once-threatened Sparta aquifer will continue its phenomenal recovery as a high-quality source of drinking water. We can’t emphasize enough how essential the persistence, guidance, and support of our Congressional delegation has been to our success,” said Sherrel Johnson, Grants/Project Manager, Union County Water Conservation Board.
As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Boozman delivered critical improvements to Arkansas water infrastructure including:
Assistance for McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River and Ouachita-Black River Navigation Projects
This language requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to provide assistance to non-federal stakeholders associated with the deepening of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation channel to a minimum depth of 12 feet. It also requires the Corps to provide assistance to stakeholders by adding water supply as a purpose for the Ouachita-Black River navigation project in Arkansas and Louisiana.
Credit or Reimbursement for Materials
Boozman’s measure allows a non-federal entity that contributes materials or services to repair, restore, replace or maintain a water resources project to be eligible for reimbursement for the value of the materials and services.
This provision will allow non-federal private or public entities to be eligible for credit or reimbursement, making it possible for a stakeholder to provide materials or money to get a project done more quickly instead of waiting on the federal government to fund important infrastructure projects in Arkansas. While it is not guaranteed that the entity will receive credit or reimbursement, it does give them the opportunity to apply to the Corps to get their money back.
This language allows the Corps to maximize use of “tradeoff procedures” in competitive acquisitions while carrying out work with states in an area under a disaster declaration.
When responding to emergencies, time is always a critical factor. For example, if Arkansas is dealing with a major flood that shuts down its rivers, it will need to work quickly to dredge the river to ensure the system gets up and running so commerce does not slow down. This provision will allow Arkansas, in conjunction with the Corps, to select the dredging company they believe will get the job done in the most expedient and efficient manner and will not obligate them to choose the cheapest company available.
Improve Levee Safety
Boozman’s provision updates the levee safety evaluation process by requiring the Corps to provide solutions and the associated costs to fix existing deficiencies for levees that fail to meet the highest rating standard. When identifying deficiencies and describing remedies, the Corps is required to consult with relevant non-federal interests and provide them with an opportunity to comment. This will provide a much-needed road map for deficient and minimally acceptable levee systems in Arkansas to improve safety and raise their classification with the Corps.
Permits Studies of Water Resources Development Projects by Non-Federal Entities
This language would allow a non-federal entity to conduct a feasibility study on modifications or improvements to a project constructed by the Corps. The Corps is required to issue guidelines for feasibility studies of water resources development projects conducted by non-federal interests to provide sufficient information for the formulation of the studies, including processes and procedures related to reviews and assistance.
This provision would help stakeholders in future Corps projects in Arkansas complete their own feasibility studies and submit them for review. This would mean non-federal stakeholders would not be forced to wait for the federal government, allowing the non-federal stakeholder to complete its study more quickly, saving valuable time and money.
Conforming Construction Cost-Sharing for Inland Waterway Transportation
Boozman’s provision adjusts the cost-share for construction or major rehabilitation of an inland waterways navigation project to 65 percent from the general fund of the Treasury and 35 percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF). The change in cost-share applies to projects authorized on or after the date of enactment of the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 and for which the construction or major rehabilitation has not been initiated or completed by the date of enactment of America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020.
If constrained to a 50-50 cost share, many of the IWTF projects will not even begin construction in the next 20 years. Shifting the cost share for all IWTF projects to a 65-35 ratio could enable the currently authorized Arkansas projects to be completed more quickly.