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Water Development Bill Includes Aid for Flint

Other funds would reduce lead in drinking water elsewhere

A delivery man hauled bottled water outside of the St. Mark Baptist Church in Flint, Mich., in February. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
A delivery man hauled bottled water outside of the St. Mark Baptist Church in Flint, Mich., in February. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate’s latest bipartisan proposal to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act, released Tuesday, would provide assistance to fix the lead-poisoned water system in Flint, Mich ., while authorizing 25 Army Corps of Engineers water infrastructure projects in 17 states.  

The measure, co-sponsored by Environment and Public Works Chairman James M. Inhofe , R-Okla ., and the committee’s top Democrat, Barbara Boxer of California, would be the latest effort by lawmakers to approve and fund key water infrastructure projects across the nation. In total, the bill authorizes over $9 billion in funding.  

The bill’s plan to support Flint would draw heavily from a previous measure that was to be considered as a part of a deal to get Democrats to allow a vote on an unrelated energy bill. The Flint measure was dropped when Democrats relented on the demand in return for a promise of another legislative vehicle to help Flint. The water reauthorization appears to be that vehicle.  

Michigan Democrats Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters , who led the effort to hold up the energy bill to get action on Flint, welcomed the provisions in the water measure.  

“It’s great this is in the base text of the (water) bill,” Peters told reporters. “The fact that it’s part of the base text will increase its odds of passing.”  

Flint’s water crisis is not the only drinking water contamination problem hanging over the committee’s work. Lead-tainted water has also been documented in Ohio, Maryland, Mississippi and New Jersey.  

According to a committee summary, the bill would authorize grants of up to $300 million over five years for communities to replace lead service lines, among other actions to reduce lead in drinking water. It would also authorize $1.4 billion in grants over five years for small and poorer communities to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act, with priority given to those without “basic drinking water or wastewater services.”  

The reauthorization bill would redirect a total of $220 million from a Department of Energy Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program to offset some of the spending for the grants.  

The bill “helps poor and disadvantaged communities by providing technical assistance and enabling communities to plan for infrastructure investments in a manner that prioritizes public health while minimizing impacts on ratepayers ,” the fact sheet said.  

The committee plans to mark up the bill by Thursday, according to  committee staff. Inhofe and Boxer will then try to shepherd the bill to the floor quickly, but the legislative calendar presents a challenge with only eight weeks until the extended summer recess.  

Inhofe and Boxer, however, have had success moving a bipartisan bill through the Senate. Last fall, they managed the highway bill all the way to the president’s desk.  

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso , R-Wyo., said Tuesday at a breakfast hosted by a lobbying firm that a bill relating to toxic and chemical substances and the Water Resources Development Act are two measures aside from spending bills that are likely to get done this year.  

Last reauthorized in 2014, the law traditionally addresses improvements by the Army Corps of Engineers to navigable waterways, flood control projects and environmental restoration projects. Bills to reauthorize the WRDA are traditionally passed every two years, but partisan fights caused only two to be signed in the last 14 years. The 2014 bill was the first to be enacted in seven years.  

Among the Army Corps projects that would be authorized by the bill is a Florida Everglades restoration project backed by Sen. Marco Rubio , R-Fla.  

The bill would also authorize levee reconstruction projects in Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, and Texas, and hurricane protection projects in Louisiana.  

In an effort to encourage investment in future water technology, the bill would provide support to research and development through a new water technology grant program as well as a state revolving fund that states could use to back drought-prevention technologies.  

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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