Water infrastucture bill now headed to president’s desk

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said today said that the Conference Report of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 passed by the U.S. Senate earlier today invests in Illinois priorities and will make Illinois, the Midwest, and the country better prepared for extreme weather events like droughts and floods.

The bill – which was passed by the House of Representatives earlier this week – now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

“This legislation is very good news for Illinois,” Durbin said. “We know what locks and dams mean to our farmers, to local commerce, and to the families that live in areas that are a high risk of flooding. Now we’ve passed a bill that will help make critical and necessary upgrades to that infrastructure after decades of neglect.”

“Modernizing our aging locks and dams is critical to ensuring that through our waterway infrastructure Illinois remains competitive in the global economy,” Kirk said. “This fiscally responsible bill leverages public-private partnerships to maximize the efficiency of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, unlocking the power of our state’s water transportation network while minimizing costs to taxpayers.”

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 would:

· Create a pilot program to improve the nation’s water infrastructure through public-private partnerships. The Army Corps of Engineers estimates a $60 billion backlog of outstanding projects that will take decades to complete without outside investment. This provision is based on legislation that Durbin and Kirk introduced with U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., called the Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act. The pilot program is intended to help expedite projects – including lock and dam modernization along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers – and save taxpayers money. The bill would:

· Improve navigation in the Mississippi River Basin. This bill would authorize a first of its kind study to help better understand how the Basin functions as a system and how it can best be managed in order to maintain safe and reliable navigation and protect lives and property, especially during times of severe flooding and drought. The legislation would also improve tools used for Mississippi River forecasting and expanding flexibility for the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain navigation. It also creates a first-ever environmental management pilot program for the middle Mississippi River. These measures are based on a bill Durbin authored called the Mississippi River Navigation Sustainment Act and introduced with U.S. Rep.Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville. The goal is to maintain the critical movement of goods on the Mississippi River during periods of extreme weather through better Corps water management procedures, improved river forecasting, more flexibility for the Corps of Engineers to respond, and more effective environmental management.

· Protect the Lake Michigan Shoreline. Chicago’s shoreline protection was built more than 80 years ago, and is significantly deteriorated. Durbin has secured significant federal funding for upgrades to the shoreline, and earlier this year, joined officials from the City of Chicago and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to officially open the 43rd-45th Street of the Lake Michigan Shoreline Protection Project. This bill will help allow additional critical storm damage reduction and lakefront recreation projects to move forward.

· Continue the fight against the spread of Asian Carp. The bill authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to implement emergency measures recommended in the efficacy study authorized by the 2007 WRDA bill. These recommendations have been authorized annually in appropriations bills but are made permanent in this bill.

· Assist Metro East communities improve their levees. The bill would combine the several levee projects in the Metro East region into one project authority to allow the Army Corps of Engineers greater flexibility and efficiency in using federal funding to complete the projects. The bill also would change eligibility requirements to allow these projects to receive work-in-kind credit, which can assist local efforts to rebuild the levees to authorized levels of protection. More information on that provision is available here.

· Address the increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather events. The bill would initiate studies to evaluate how best to respond to and mitigate extreme weather events. It would also give the Army Corps of Engineers greater authority to learn from and prepare for extreme weather events.

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