The U.S. House of Representatives easily passed an $8 billion water infrastructure bill on October 23rd by a vote of 417-3.  None of the 3 dissenting votes were Florida members.  The bill authorizes about two dozen port, dam, flood protection and environmental projects throughout the country, with the bulk of the money flowing to Florida, Louisiana, California, and Mississippi.

The bill streamlines some environmental review requirements blamed for holding up projects, and contains provisions aimed at expediting Army Corps of Engineers work. The bill also increases  funding for the nation’s harbors.

The next step in the legislative process is the House-Senate conference of their respective bills (S.601 and H.R. 3080).  Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and David Vitter (R-La.), the chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, both praised the House’s passage of the bill and are eager to move forward with a conference.  However, there are differences within the 2 bills that could slow progress.

While the House bill would authorize 23 specific projects at a projected investment of $8 billion, the Senate’s $12 billion bill instead creates guidelines that would authorize any project that meets these guidelines.  The Congressional Budget Office estimated in April that 27 projects would meet the Senate criteria. Both approaches are new and were necessitated by the congressional ban on earmarks.

Several weeks ago, the Florida Association of Counties joined representatives of South Florida’s 16-County Coalition for two days on Capitol Hill advocating support for passage of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) and infrastructure improvements critical for navigation in Florida and restoration of the South Florida ecosystem. The House bill, as passed on Wednesday, would authorize $1 billion in environmental restoration and navigation projects in Florida, including navigation projects at Jacksonville Harbor and Canaveral Harbor and four Everglades Restoration projects – the C-43 West Basin Reservoir, C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project, Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands and Broward County Water Preserve Areas.

FAC thanks Florida’s Congressional Delegation and the U.S. House of Representatives for passing this important bill. To read FAC Federal Committee Chair and Martin County Commissioner Doug Smith’s statement and opinion piece on WRRDA, visit http://www.fl-counties.com/home/media-relations.

(Information provided by The Ferguson Group)