January 28, 2021

Congress authorizes water infrastructure projects

WASHINGTON — Packed into the $2.3 trillion spending bill that includes $900 billion in coronavirus relief and a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package passed by an overwhelming majority in Congress and signed by President Donald Trump was the biennial Water Resources Development Act reauthorization.

The water infrastructure package authorizes spending $9.9 billion for 46 new flood control, harbor, ecosystem and lock and dam projects on waterways across the nation and would authorize the study of 24 more projects.

The package includes unlocking and spending down the roughly $10 billion balance in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, including allowing access to $500 million in appropriations to the Army Corps from the fund for the first year, fiscal year 2021, to tackle the backlog in federal navigation maintenance work at the nation’s ports and harbors.

The 2020 WRDA reauthorization includes the following Midwest projects:

Modifies and Improves Inland Waterways Cost-Sharing: This provision will help expedite seven lock and dam modernization projects on the Illinois and Upper Mississippi rivers to give farmers and other industries a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

Protects the Great Lakes from Asian Carp and reduces costs for Illinois: The bill authorizes the construction of the Brandon Road Lock and Dam Project and lowers construction costs for Illinois taxpayers.

Enhances protections for Chicago shorelines and expedites improvements to the Chicago River: The bill will help Chicago shoreline protection and resiliency efforts for areas affected by recent flooding by providing a new funding stream for the Army Corps of Engineers to study the expansion of the Chicago Shoreline Project. It also reinforces a federal commitment to the Chicago River Restoration Framework Plan that will inform future restoration projects along the Chicago River.

Includes $65 million to repair or replace degraded pump stations in flood-prone communities along the Mississippi River: An example is Cairo, Illinois, that often does not have the resources necessary to protect themselves from increased rainfall and flooding. This provision will help the Corps to rebuild and better protect these areas.

Increases funding for Great Lakes port and harbor projects: The bill reforms the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and increases the percentage of HMTF funding directed to Great Lakes projects to 13%, up from 9.8% last year. This funding will help to address the $550 backlog of maintenance work at Great Lakes ports throughout the region.

Advances critical improvement projects along the Chicago Area Waterways System: Authorizes the Corps to conduct the necessary feasibility studies to advance ecosystem restoration, recreation and other projects in Chicago-related waterways, including portions of the Illinois River, Chicago River, Calumet River, Grand Calumet River and Little Calumet River. It also authorizes the Bubbly Creek Restoration Project on the South Branch of the South Fork of the Chicago River.

Establishes new emergency fund for Upper Mississippi dredging: The new $25 million emergency reserve fund will support dredging and mitigation projects along the Upper Mississippi River in response to significant flood events like last year’s historic flooding.

“Sixty percent of Illinois soybeans are exported, and our farmers recognize the importance of maintaining our waterways to keep those export channels thriving.”

—  Doug Schroeder, Illinois Soybean Growers chairman

Nearly 80% of traded goods that Americans rely on are moved through the nation’s ports, harbors and inland waterways, and efficient waterway transportation is vital to agriculture.

WRDA supporters expressed their appreciation for the passage and fund authorization:

“Because ICGA has advocated for upgraded locks and dams for so many years, it is with great pride that we celebrate the passage of (WRDA). This bill contains a cost share change in the construction account from 50% general revenue/50% inland waterway trust fund, to 65% general revenue/35% inland waterway trust fund through 2031. What this accomplishes for Illinois farmers is an opportunity to move more projects without depleting the private funds in the inland waterway trust fund. Illinois corn farmers are extremely grateful to the bi-partisan work of our entire Illinois congressional delegation in the pursuit of upgraded locks and dams on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.”

Randy DeSutter, president

Illinois Corn Growers Association

“We are pleased to end the year with a Congress who recognizes the critical importance of our locks, dams and water system infrastructure. Soybean farmers across the country rely on sound ag policy like WRDA to make sure our crop can efficiently get to market and the global customers we serve. Sixty percent of Illinois soybeans are exported, and our farmers recognize the importance of maintaining our waterways to keep those export channels thriving. We join the ag industry in applauding the bipartisan work that brought about successful WRDA legislation.”

Doug Schroeder, chairman

Illinois Soybean Growers

“Farm Bureau believes having an efficient and reliable inland waterway system linked to competitive ports is vital to America’s ability to provide affordable agricultural products domestically and to compete internationally. Given their ability to move large amounts of cargo, the nation’s inland waterways are a strategic, economic and military resource. Over 60% of America’s grain exports and many other important commodities such as fuel, coal and agricultural inputs also move through our inland waterway system. Due to this importance, Farm Bureau policy explicitly supports the maintenance and improvement of our transportation infrastructure including the locks and dams system and other waterway infrastructure.”

Zippy Duvall, president

American Farm Bureau Federation

“WRDA is a signature achievement in maintaining global competitiveness for American agricultural exports and the millions of American jobs they support.”

John Bode, president

Corn Refiners Association

“Improving Illinois’ waterways infrastructure is critical in keeping our state competitive economically and supporting communities. This year’s bill funds several key projects, including protection for Lake Michigan, prevention against the spread of Asian Carp, lock and dam modernization, flood control and support for the Army Corps of Engineers.”

Dick Durbin, U.S. senator

D-Illinois

“This legislation includes many provisions I fought for to strengthen our state’s economy and public health while creating good-paying jobs. This bill will help enhance our improve flood protections, safeguard our environment, modernize our inland waterways and protect the Great Lakes.”

Tammy Duckworth, U.S. senator

D-Illinois

Tom Doran

Field Editor