May 22, 2018

Senate Water Infrastructure Bill Includes RI Priorities

Whitehouse and Reed initiatives direct Army Corps to report on use of innovative materials, study hurricane barrier resiliency, complete RI projects

Washington, D.C. – The Environment and Public Works Committee this morning unanimously voted to clear the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, which authorizes important civil works and flood control projects and policies for the Army Corps of Engineers.  The bill includes a number of provisions championed by U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed that will benefit Rhode Island’s coastal and water infrastructure, and promote investments in the local economy.  Senator Whitehouse is a cosponsor of the America’s Water Infrastructure Act.

“This bill makes important headway in protecting infrastructure along our coasts and improving drinking water and sewer systems,” said Whitehouse, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.  “From promoting the innovative composite materials made here in Rhode Island to studying ways to strengthen hurricane barriers like the one that protects Providence homes and businesses, I worked with Rhode Islanders to add elements to this bill that will help prepare our local economy for long-term growth.”

“The federal government needs to make smart investments in clean water infrastructure, flood control, and storm risk reduction projects.  This bill includes important provisions to modernize our water infrastructure, strengthen communities, and protect the environment,” said Senator Reed.

Among the wins for Rhode Island in the bill, the legislation directs the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain timely completion of ongoing projects in Rhode Island, including the Providence River dredging project, the Pawcatuck River Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study, and the Rhode Island Historical Structure Flood Hazard Vulnerability Assessment.

The bill includes a Whitehouse provision requiring the Army Corps to report on its research and make recommendations on expanded use of innovative materials, like composites made by Rhode Island manufacturers, in water resources projects.  It also requires the Army Corps to improve implementation of an authority that Whitehouse previously helped establish to give the Corps the ability to remove debris that impedes navigation and recreation, like the decayed pilings protruding from the Providence River along the East Providence waterfront.

It also includes a number of provisions to improve transparency in the Army Corps’ decision-making, including reaffirming language Senator Whitehouse championed in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 that requires the Army Corps to make public how projects under the Continuing Authorities Program are prioritized and funded. 

With the challenges facing coastal communities in mind, the America’s Water Infrastructure Act incorporates Whitehouse’s language to direct the Army Corps to report to Congress on the resiliency of existing hurricane barriers and harbors of refuge in the northeast under predicted near-term and long-term sea level rise and storm conditions.  It also requires the Corps to report to Congress on the opportunities to take into consideration existing state coastal plans, like Rhode Island’s Special Area Management Plans, when identifying and prioritizing projects. 

The America’s Water Infrastructure Act also improves dam safety, including updating the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Program established by Senator Reed to rehabilitate or remove non-federal, non-agricultural dams that could threaten lives and property if they fail.  There are thousands of these dams across the country.  The bill will also reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program, which is the primary source of funding for RIDEM to maintain and improve the safety of Rhode Island dams.  Grant assistance authorized in the bill could provide Rhode Island up to $700,000 per year to help inspect, repair, and rehabilitate high hazard dams.

The legislation also includes bills Whitehouse cosponsored to improve resiliency in water infrastructure systems and to create a new water infrastructure financing mechanism to provide low-interest loans for drinking water and water management infrastructure projects in Rhode Island. 

The legislation now moves to the full Senate.  The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is set to vote on its version of the bill tomorrow, May 23. 


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921