September 15, 2016

Job-Creating Water Infrastructure Bill Passes Senate

Merkley, Wyden Championed Key Provisions for Oregon

Washington, DC - Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced today that the full Senate has passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which includes key job creation and funding opportunities for Oregon communities.

The legislation previously passed the Environment and Public Works Committee in April; it must now be passed by the U.S. House of Representatives before being signed into law.

In particular, the Senators highlighted that the bill would make permanent a provision ensuring that small ports in Oregon and elsewhere are assured access to funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). The bill also provides $70 million in funding for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), which Senator Merkley has championed to help local communities finance safe drinking and wastewater infrastructure projects. The $70 million in initial funding could leverage over $700 million in low-interest loans for communities to finance safe drinking and wastewater infrastructure projects.

Additionally, the bill contains aid to Flint, Michigan to help the city address its lead-poisoning crisis.

“As cities like Flint have learned all too tragically, we pay a steep price when we allow underfunded and outdated water infrastructure to contaminate our drinking water,” said Merkley. “We’re seeing this same problem all over Oregon. This bill will create jobs by putting folks to work building new infrastructure that will keep our communities safe and expand economic opportunities. Additionally, it invests in maintenance for the small ports that are the lifeblood of Oregon’s coastal communities, helping sustain good-paying jobs all up and down the coast.”

“Clean drinking water for children in Portland and Flint, access to housing for displaced Native American families in Oregon – these issues are about as important as it gets,” Wyden said. “This bill builds on several important Oregon priorities that Sen. Merkley and I have fought for – like economic security and growing job opportunities for our state’s small ports – and makes them a reality.”

Senators Merkley and Wyden have consistently fought in the Senate to make sure that the HMTF is used for its intended purpose of maintaining ports rather than being raided to pay for other priorities, and that small ports in America receive a share of this funding. For small coastal communities in Oregon, access to funding for dredging is crucial to the economy. As a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Merkley was able to pass a 10% set-aside for small ports in 2014; however, the set-aside was scheduled to expire in 2022. The legislation makes the 10% set-aside permanent.

In almost every town hall meeting that Senators Merkley and Wyden hold, in every corner of Oregon, they hear about the challenges that local communities are having finding funding to replace or upgrade aging water infrastructure. Clean drinking water and modern wastewater treatment systems are critical for public health and safety, strong local businesses, population growth, and clean rivers and aquifers. Incidents like the recent crisis in Flint, Michigan underscore the dangers that can result when the safety of our drinking water and state of our water infrastructure are not made a priority.

The bill also includes Senator Merkley’s proposal requiring that water infrastructure projects funded by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) use American iron and steel whenever possible, keeping taxpayer dollars within the American economy and helping to create even more good-paying jobs here at home. Currently, SRF projects are one of the only federally-funded infrastructure programs that do not have Buy America requirements.

Additional provisions included in today’s legislation that will deliver benefits to Oregon communities include: 

  • Authorizing the Columbia River Restoration Act so that the EPA can set up a voluntary grant program to incentivize cleanup along the Columbia River.
  • Expanding water infrastructure financing options to local water irrigation districts, which will help Central Oregon irrigation districts implement water conservation projects to address the spotted frog challenge and assist local farmers and ranchers.
  • Working to provide adequate housing and resources for Tribes along the Columbia River by authorizing relocation assistance to Native families displaced by the construction of Bonneville Dam, and by authorizing a study of Native families displaced by the John Day Dam to determine if there is an unmet obligation for relocation assistance.
  • Providing Oregonians better access to the Giles French Park in Rufus, Oregon, by allowing the Army Corps of Engineers to let a non-Federal government entity collect users fees for recreation sites and facilities. 
  • Giving the Port of Cascade Locks greater economic development opportunities along its waterfront by clarifying an out-of-date easement. 
  • Expanding water craft inspection stations to cover the entire Columbia River Basin to protect our lakes and waterways from invasive species, such as the zebra mussel.