May 22 2014
WASHINGTON – A major water resources and development agreement, which includes several provisions authored by Senator John Boozman (R-AR), cleared a final hurdle this afternoon when it was overwhelmingly approved by the U.S. Senate.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) passed by a vote of 91-7. Having been overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives earlier this week, the bill will now go to the President to be signed into law.
Boozman, a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works which has jurisdiction over WRRDA, was unable to vote on the agreement as he is in Arkansas recovering from heart surgery. However, he released the following statement in support of the bill’s passage:
“I am pleased that Congress passed this important bill to address our nation’s infrastructure needs. WRRDA will improve our nation’s water resources policy by reforming the Corps of Engineers to increase transparency, reduce flood risks and improve the reliability of our water supply and hydropower. Additionally, like all thoughtful infrastructure investment, this bill will create jobs. It is my hope the President quickly signs it into law.”
Several provisions authored or supported by Boozman made it into the final agreement:
- Improves River Ports in Arkansas: The bill guarantees adequate funding for river ports in Arkansas from the industry-supported Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. This funding is collected through a small tax on imports, but until a Boozman-supported provision was added to the bill, little if any of the funding was coming to maintain facilities in Arkansas. Arkansas farms and factories use the river to ship goods to and from our state. Without well-maintained ports, Arkansas products will become more expensive and less competitive as we try to increase exports.
- Extends America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Program: Boozman authored language in the bill allowing the Corps to participate in this Pass Program in the same manner as the National Park Service and the Forest Service.
- Provides Park Passes for Active-Duty Military Personnel and Dependents: Language authored by Boozman provides free annual passes to active duty military personnel and dependents. These military families will now be treated the same at Corps-operated sites as at other federal recreation sites.
- Improves Dam Safety: A Boozman-authored provision extending the National Dam Safety Program—which provides grants to improve state dam safety programs through training, technical assistance, inspection, and research—was included in the bill. Dams throughout Arkansas provide water for homes, farms, and factories, as well as opportunities for fishing and other types of recreation while reducing the risk of flooding.
- Incentivizes Low-Interest Financing Options for Water Resources Projects: Another Boozman-authored provision of the bill incentivizes low-interest financing options for water resources projects to guarantee that critical irrigation and groundwater protection projects, like Bayou Meto and Grand Prairie, will be eligible to participate in this program.
- Protects Farmers from Excessive EPA Regulation of Small Above Ground Storage Tanks: The bill permanently prevents the EPA from imposing heavy-handed regulations on small above ground storage tanks on farms and ranches. The bill also provides safeguards to ensure that the regulation of medium-sized storage tanks on farms and ranches will be developed thoughtfully and in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture. Boozman actively supported the inclusion of these provisions.
- Assures Water Cost Transparency: Boozman authored a provision that requires the Corps of Engineers to explain the rationale for the water rates that it charges to utilities. The Corps sells water to utilities and municipalities that provide water to hundreds of thousands of Arkansans. This Boozman-authored provision will require the Corps to provide a detailed accounting of the costs associated with providing this water, so that customers will know whether or not their current water rates are justified.
- Finding Beneficial Uses for Excess Water: Boozman authored a provision that requires the Corps of Engineers to work with water districts that are under contract to purchase more water than they can use. In many cases, the Corps sells water to utilities on long-term contracts based on predictions of future population growth. If this growth fails to occur, the costs can skyrocket for families, businesses, and farmers. Under the Boozman-authored language, the Corps will work with water districts in this predicament to open new markets so that the excess water can be put to a beneficial use elsewhere.
- Enhancing Cooperative Joint Management: The bill includes language authored by Boozman to the management of Corps recreation facilities, providing a better experience for Arkansans who visit Corps parks for recreational purposes.
- Project Deauthorization: The bill is made more fiscally-responsible by providing for the “deauthorization” of $18 billion of older, inactive projects. Boozman worked to ensure that this provision was carefully crafted so that important long-term projects, like the Arkansas River 12-Foot Channel, which have received significant previous support, will remain authorized.
- Providing Adequate Levels of Service: With a tight budget, the Corps has been reducing levels of service at locks and dams. This threatens to interrupt shipments on our rivers. The most important thing we can do is provide adequate funding to operate the facilities that the taxpayers have already paid to construct. Boozman also supported a provision in WRRDA to allow the Corps to work with non-federal partners to accept contributed funds to increase lock operations.
- Arkansas River Advisory Committee: The bill creates a McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System Advisory Committee. This stakeholder advisory committee will provide recommendations to improve the efficiency, reliability, and availability of the navigation system.
In addition, Boozman worked with his colleagues to include a number of significant reforms that cut bureaucracy, reduce costs, make projects more efficient, and minimize delays. Significant portions of the bill are also designed to expand public-private partnerships.