Bipartisan House Bill To Repair Water Infrastructure Still Falls Drastically Short

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After years of ignoring crumbling dams and flooded ports, the House of Representatives finally passed a bill to repair and update the nation’s water infrastructure. The bill dedicates $8.3 billion to water projects, about $4 billion less than the Senate’s version of the bill.

Much-needed water infrastructure repair has stalled, thanks to the House’s three-year ban on earmarks for lawmakers’ home projects. That “pork” led to wasteful spending, but the blanket policy has hobbled funding for water infrastructure updates, which are necessarily local projects. Before the earmark ban, Congress passed a water infrastructure bill about every two years until 2007, funding repairs and updates for various dams, ports, and waterways across the country.

Congress circumvented the ban this time by shifting the responsibility to the Army Corps of Engineers to recommend projects. The engineers identified 23 projects to improve shipping channels, flood prevention, and environmental restoration. Many of the newly approved projects will bolster protections against floods and storms like last year’s devastating Superstorm Sandy — an ever more important investment as climate change makes storms more damaging and more frequent.

Still, even these billions of dollars won’t come close to meeting our actual infrastructure needs. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that water infrastructure spending between 2000 and 2019 will fall short by $263 billion and will be worsened by growing water crises like the shortages already plaguing western states. The state of dams, inland waterways, levees, and ports earned dismal grades in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) infrastructure report card.

Nor does the bill address the burgeoning drinking water crisis, as thousands of miles of deteriorating water pipes and tanks threaten the clean drinking water we take for granted.

Additionally, new “streamlined” regulations in both the Senate and House versions reduce the Army Corps of Engineers’ ability to oversee and track projects. Reducing this oversight, environmentalists fear, could lead to shoddy projects like the one that lead to the disastrous Hurricane Katrina levee failure.