The U.S. Senate passed The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act early Saturday. This legislation will strengthen our nation’s waterway infrastructure, provide clean water and drinking water assistance around the country and address agriculture water supply needs. The legislation includes several provisions authored by U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) to benefit Arkansas.
“This is an important water infrastructure bill that will deliver important water resources to Arkansans and provide Arkansas farmers and factories a reliable method to move their goods to market, creating more economic opportunities and jobs for the hardworking people of our state. I am pleased the Senate was able to pass this bill with strong bipartisan support,” Boozman, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee said.
The legislation includes reforms to address our nation’s drinking water, sewer and agricultural water supply needs. It focuses on the concerns of rural areas that struggle to meet expensive regulatory requirements.
Boozman-authored provisions include:
Improving the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA)
The United States faces a multi-hundred billion dollar shortfall in the need for water infrastructure investments, which includes drinking water, sewer and agricultural water supply projects. The federal government has provided funding to establish revolving loan grant programs — administered by the states — as well as resources such as the WIFIA. This program leverages small investments to make sure taxpayers get the most bang for the buck. In an effort to make the WIFIA program a viable option for critical agricultural water-supply projects in Arkansas, Boozman included language in the WRDA bill to reform the WIFIA program. The WIFIA program can only finance up to 49 percent of a project’s costs. The Boozman language clarifies that costs incurred and in-kind contributions made before the receipt of a WIFIA loan count toward the 51 percent of the project that must be financed by non-WIFIA dollars. This is a great first step to open up a new financing option to ensure that farmers have access to the water necessary to keep Arkansas agriculture strong.
Expanding the Mission of the Ouachita-Black Rivers System
For decades, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has managed the Ouachita-Black Rivers System for the purpose of promoting navigation and shipping on the rivers. Under the Boozman-authored provision, the Corps will determine whether it makes sense to expand the project’s purpose to include: (1) water supply and (2) bank stabilization. Arkansans and Louisianans already use the Ouachita-Black Rivers System for water supply, but expanding the official project purpose will ensure the Corps fully considers the water supply benefits when making project management decisions. Adding bank stabilization would improve water quality and make it easier to maintain a navigation channel in the river.
Partnerships for Corps Parks
Boozman’s provision restores an earlier practice of the Corps, by which user fees were reinvested through public-private partnerships to enhance operation, maintenance and management of recreation sites. For many years, the Corps used its authority to allow these community and non-profit partners to collect and reinvest recreation user fees. However, in 2013, the Corps released guidance disallowing this practice. Based on a legal review, the Corps determined that these partnerships were not allowed under the law. As a result, the Corps was forced to collect these fees without reinvesting the money at the local parks. Boozman’s provision will ensure that the Corps can once again form these partnerships with local communities and non-profits. These partnerships save money and help keep parks open and well-maintained.
Providing Technical Assistance to Small Community Water Systems
The most recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Water Drinking Needs Survey reflects a shortfall of $64 billion in drinking water infrastructure funding. Boozman’s provision will update existing EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs to provide cost-saving information about innovative and alternate drinking water delivery systems including those supported by wells. It also requires that alternative drinking water supplies such as individual, shared and community wells be considered in applications for federal funding for drinking water systems serving 500 or fewer people.
Protecting the Arkansas River 12-Foot Channel Project
A previously passed law authored by then-Congressman Boozman, authorized a project to deepen the Arkansas River navigation channel to 12 feet. This would provide a 40 percent increase in the capacity of river barges to transport products for Arkansas farmers and factories. However, in recent years, the critical maintenance needs on the Arkansas River have consumed considerable funding to keep our locks and the existing river channel open. Also, funding for 12-foot channel construction is not currently available, because the money from the Inland Waterway Trust Fund is currently dedicated to the Olmsted Lock and Dam. As a result, the 12-foot channel project is at risk of automatic de-authorization. Boozman’s language in the WRDA bill will ensure that the 12-foot channel project authority will continue at least until after Olmsted is complete, which will free up funding for other inland waterways projects like the 12-foot channel.