Washington, D.C. – By a vote of 95-3, the Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, which will promote improvements to our waterways, harbors, and drinking water infrastructure and support U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects in Rhode Island championed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.
Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, helped to draft the bill, which contains a provision he authored to expand the Army Corps’ authority to clean up pilings and other marine debris from Rhode Island waterways. Whitehouse included a provision ordering a study of innovative materials—like composites manufactured in Rhode Island—in Army Corps projects. He negotiated an improvement to a Corps study of ecosystem restoration opportunities along the North Atlantic coast. The bill would also take steps to address lead contamination in drinking water supported by Whitehouse.
“This bill gives the green light to important projects—things like keeping our rivers and ports safe and hardening our coast against the next big storm,” said Whitehouse. “It supports our cutting edge economy. And it will help us fight the lead contamination that causes pain and heartache for far too many families in places like Flint and Providence. This bill’s got some real wins for Rhode Island.”
Congress first enacted the Water Resources Development Act in 1974 to establish and improve water-related programs and authorize the Army Corps to assist with flood protection, ecosystem restoration, and navigation to facilitate the flow of commerce in U.S. waterways. By law, the statute must be periodically renewed by Congress.
This year’s reauthorization includes a provision proposed by Whitehouse to expand the Army Corps’ authorization for removing marine debris and other obstructions from areas adjacent to navigable federal channels, such as sections of the Providence River that are littered with wooden pilings and an area near the East Providence Yacht Club containing remnants of a now defunct Army Corps bridge. The Whitehouse provision would increase the funding authorization for the Corps’ marine debris clean-up program from $1 million to $5 million.
The bill includes Whitehouse’s provision requiring the Army Corps to study the use and performance of composites and other innovative materials in its projects. Whitehouse has been working hard to leverage Rhode Island’s long tradition of innovative uses of composite materials in boat-making to expand into other markets, like infrastructure.
“High-strength, corrosion-resistant composite materials have a huge and untapped potential when it comes to improving our infrastructure,” said Wendy Mackie of the Composites Alliance of Rhode Island. “Senator Whitehouse well understands that potential, and we applaud him for focusing on innovative materials such as composites in this bill—a move that can have a dramatic impact both on our statewide industry and the infrastructure we all rely on.”
The legislation also includes S. 3121, a bill introduced by Whitehouse to clarify a previous authorization of an Army Corps North Atlantic Coastal Ecosystem Restoration study, which will identify coastal restoration opportunities along Rhode Island’s coast. Rhode Island’s chapter of The Nature Conservancy has encouraged a change to the existing authorization to clarify the requirements for conducting the study and avoid unnecessary delays.
«This Act is critically important for Rhode Island and the northeast,” said John Torgan, Director of Ocean and Coastal Conservation at The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island. “The Conservancy is pleased that this version of WRDA contains Senator Whitehouse’s provision directing the Army Corps of engineers to do a comprehensive assessment in the North Atlantic coast and a management plan to advance coastal habitat restoration. We applaud Senator Whitehouse for his leadership.»
Whitehouse helped to include a provision based on legislation introduced by Senator Jack Reed to provide Federal Emergency Management Agency grants to rehabilitate, repair, and remove small dams that are deemed highly hazardous to the public.
In addition, the bill includes key provisions to help reduce lead in drinking water and provide assistance to communities across the country experiencing drinking water emergencies, provide financial assistance for small and disadvantaged communities, and promote the use of green infrastructure and other innovations for our water infrastructure. These provisions are based largely on legislation Whitehouse and Reed have cosponsored to address the lead crisis, including the True LEADership Act.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, which is also debating a reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act.