October 11, 2018

Whitehouse Statement for the Record in Support of WRDA

The passage of the bipartisan America’s Water Infrastructure Act, more commonly called the 2018 WRDA bill, is celebrated by a wide spectrum of supporters, including environmental organizations; national associations representing cities and counties; and water and coastal business associations.  

I would like to commend the Chairman, the Ranking Member, and the staff of the Environment and Public Works Committee for their hard work on this bill.  I appreciate their consideration of my requests and their willingness to work with my staff in ensuring Rhode Island’s needs are well represented in the final WRDA bill. 

In particular, the American Water Infrastructure Act includes my provision directing the Army Corps of Engineers to study the resiliency of harbors of refuge and hurricane barriers in the North Atlantic – like the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier in Providence – that are under threat from rising sea levels and stronger storm surge.  Though they may be able to endure current conditions, extra feet of sea level rise coupled with stronger storm surges will overpower the capabilities of many of these structures.  We need to get ahead of these consequences of climate change and protect our coastal communities, instead of waiting for these barriers to fail and imperil coastal homes and businesses. 

As oceans overtake our coastal infrastructure, we’ll also need to look to new and innovative building materials and techniques that can endure corrosive saltwater and other harsh environmental conditions.  This WRDA bill also includes my provision requiring the Corps to submit a report to Congress summarizing its research and investments in innovative materials, like Rhode Island-created composites, in water infrastructure projects, and recommend in which Army Corps projects those materials could be used. 

This year’s WRDA bill also instructs the Corps to study the extent to which it has made use of its authority to clean up waterways littered with marine debris, like the deteriorating wooden pilings in the Providence River.  It also expedites the completion of important projects and studies in Rhode Island, like the Providence River dredging project, Pawcatuck coastal risk management study, and the Rhode Island historical structure flood hazard vulnerability assessment that will bolster Rhode Island’s coastal economy and prepare it for future conditions.

Overall, the bill does well to give special consideration to coastal communities, also requiring the Corps to consider natural infrastructure solutions to flood and storm damage risk reduction projects, prioritize coastal erosion mitigation projects in New England, and assess coastal resiliency needs for the Great Lakes.  Though only 17 percent of total land area, the United States’ coastal counties are home to over half of the U.S. population and were responsible for 48 percent of the country’s GDP in 2017.  Investing in our coasts is in an investment in the well-being of the entire country’s economy. 

I’m also grateful this bill includes a focus on our water infrastructure.  In addition to reauthorizing the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds and WIFIA programs, it also creates a new water financing opportunity that will better support water infrastructure projects in small- and medium-sized communities.  I’m proud to be a cosponsor of the SRF WIN Act which creates this new program, and thank Senators Boozman and Booker for their leadership on this issue. 

I look forward to working with my colleagues, the Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Rhode Islanders as we move towards implementing this important infrastructure bill.