Trump Signs Law Authorizing Water Infrastructure Projects

WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed a new water infrastructure bill into law, authorizing $3.7 billion for scores of new Army Corps of Engineers projects and an addition $4.4 billion for drinking-water projects.

The legislation is the second important federal infrastructure bill to become law in less than three weeks.

On October 5, the president signed a five-year Federal Aviation Administration bill, which addressed a wide range of airport related infrastructure issues, and also provided $1.7 billion in disaster aid to help residents in the Carolinas and other states recover from Hurricane Florence and other recent natural disasters.

Trump signed the latest bipartisan bill, America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, at a ceremony in the Oval Office. It passed through Congress earlier this month with an almost unanimous vote of 99-1.

Only Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, voted no on the bill.

Under the law, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will have the funding and authorization to expand water storage, modernize drinking systems, conduct more lead testing in low-income areas, restore vulnerable wetlands, and overhaul water reservoirs in need of restoration and more.

The legislation also diverts resources to areas prone to flooding and deauthorizes spending on those water projects that are no longer considered viable, lack support in Congress or appear “inefficient.”

One provision of the legislation is an allocation of funding for programs that will improve contaminated drinking water found in Flint, Michigan. The legislation also directs all other states to apply for federal grants to address possible contamination in their water supply.

The bill also threatens financial penalties on any person or entity responsible for contamination of a local water supply.

Grants to update drinking fountains made before 1988 in schools will also be made available through the bill. In total, $4.4 billion in revolving loans is allocated just for drinking water projects alone.

Another $20 million has been flagged for improving and maintaining water infrastructure systems on tribal lands through 2022.

The bill appropriates funding for a wide variety of flood prevention projects too and instructs the Army Corps of Engineers to report back to the federal government about any restrictions or hurdles it may find in existing federal laws that would make flood prevention projects impractical.

Additionally, at least $1 million in grants will be allocated for states to increase job opportunities for those who wish to work in the water sector.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler commended the law’s passage Tuesday, saying that it would support projects that “protect our nation’s waterways and water supplies, create well-paying jobs and help rural and urban communities thrive.”

Michael Kelly, a spoeskman for Clean Water Action, an environmental group based in Washington, D.C., told Courthouse News Tuesday that his organization was “mostly happy” about the bill’s passage.

“We were happy that the bill was relatively free of any damaging riders. Over the last year [with similar legislation], there have  consistently been riders which repeal the Clean Water Rule or others, but this bill made it out fairly clean and focused on right policies,” he said.

Finding solutions to water issues is exactly what their organization and others like them want to achieve, he said, and this bill does that to a considerable extent.

But the sprawl of water infrastructure upgrades and issues still to be addressed remains massive and while billions are currently in play, Kelly said he looks forward to the future and hopes to see Congress and the administration consistently address these issues.

“We could always use more funding and we were happy to see this increased focus. Maybe we could tackle it again in the near future,” he said.

Stefanie Sekich Quinn, coastal preservation manager at the environmental group Surfrider Foundation told Courthouse News Wednesday there were provisions of legislation that they supported.

“We are supportive of these provisions largely due to the fact that climate change and sea level rise will require our local communities to be more proactive when planning for impacts.  Our local communities must start planning creatively now in order to deal with future impacts. Using natural measures to combat erosion is very important to us,” she said.

Specifically, provisions in the bill which require the Corps to consider using natural infrastructure for flood and storm damage reduction projects as well as a requirement that extends independent peer review requirements by five years, allotting for better planning both economically and environmentally.

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