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Massive water infrastructure bill passes House, promises big impact, local congressmen say

WASHINGTON – A massive water infrastucture bill, the first to move forward since 2007, has passed the U.S. House and is headed to the Senate where approval is expected.

U.S. Congressman Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, said the Water Resources Reform and Development Act is a $12.3 billion plan with major implications for Southern Illinois.

“The best way to improve our economy and preserve jobs is to invest in our infrastructure,” Enyart said. “This legislation will provide critical dollars to strengthen our waterways and ensure they continue to be the gateway for our Southern Illinois crops, coal, chemicals and manufactured goods all around the world.”

“This bill is a big victory for Southern Illinois,” said Enyart. “The Mississippi River Sustainment Act, Metro East levee dollars, water infrastructure, and job creation for Southern Illinois are all addressed in this bill. The only losers are Asian carp.”

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Collinsville, also applauded the House’s approval of the bipartisan, bicameral Conference Report to H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. The House overwhelmingly agreed to the report by a vote of 412-4.

“WRRDA is, first and foremost, a jobs bill, and the approval of a long-term WRRDA bill was overdue,” said Davis, a member of the House-Senate WRRDA Conference Committee. “Through this Conference Report we’ve been able to cut red tape and streamline the project approval process, moving from a 15-year process to a 3-year process, and provide increased oversight and transparency, all without earmarks.

The WRRDA conference report contains the Mississippi River Sustainment Act. First introduced by Enyart in the House, and later U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, in the Senate version, includes provisions to authorize a first of its kind study to focus on the entire Mississippi River Basin during periods of extreme weather. It also provides recommendations to improve management of the Basin for navigation and flood risk management, taking into account the effect the management of the entire Basin has on the Mississippi River. The legislation would also improve tools used for river forecasting and expand flexibility for the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain proper navigation while restoring and protecting fish and wildlife habitats.

“Since my first day in office, I’ve been fighting for federal funds to cover the cost of the Wood River Levee,” said Enyart. “I’m elated to announce that we won that fight.”

The bill also authorizes $25.66 million in funding to continue necessary upgrades on the Wood River Levee. This ensures levee defects caused by construction on the Melvin Price Dam are completed at 100% federal cost.

“This bill also provides for programs to stop the spread of Asian Carp,” said Enyart. “The Mississippi and Illinois Rivers desperately need a permanent solution to this problem. With this bill, the Corps of Engineers gets the permanent authorization to stop the invasive species.”

The 2007 WRRDA bill, the last water bill enacted by Congress, provided for annual appropriations to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Asian Carp control programs. The bill passed Tuesday makes those emergency measure programs permanent.

WRRDA also create a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority, allowing for federal-private programs to finance water infrastructure. The $175 million in project subsidies would encourage the use of American-made products like iron and steel, creating jobs and economic growth for companies like U.S. Steel in Granite City.

The Senate is expected to approve the bill and it will move to the President for his signature.

Republican Congressman John Shimkus of Collinsville spelled out many of the particulars.

“This is the first water resources bill approved by Congress in seven years and likely the first ever without earmarks,” Shimkus said. “WRRDA is vital to Illinois, where more than 77 million tons of commodities worth over $28 billion travel up and down our rivers each year.”

The conference report:

· Reforms the bureaucracy to accelerate project completion and streamline environmental reviews.

· Deauthorizes $18 billion of old, inactive projects.

· Expands the ability of stakeholders at the state and local level to contribute their own funds to expedite studies, permits and projects.

· Strengthens dam and levee safety.

· Establishes a new, transparent process for future bills to review and prioritize water resources development activities with strong Congressional oversight.

· Invests in ports and water infrastructure benefiting navigation, trade, and commerce.

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