May 09, 2018

Van Hollen, Cardin Win Hard-Fought Maryland Priorities in New Water Infrastructure Legislation

U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin (both D-Md.), both members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), today highlighted the importance for Maryland communities of newly introduced legislation that will enable much-needed improvements to our nation’s water infrastructure.
Introduced Tuesday by the Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Subcommittee ranking member Senator Cardin, EPW chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), committee ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.), and T&I subcommittee chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.), “America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018” supports our nation’s economic competitiveness by increasing water storage, providing protection from dangerous floodwaters, deepening nationally significant ports and maintaining the navigability of inland waterways across the country. The bipartisan legislation also will repair aging drinking water, wastewater and irrigation systems. 

“Ensuring Maryland has the federal resources it needs to support our infrastructure and waterways is crucial to our state’s economy and environment. We worked hard to secure investments from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland, including for projects like those at Poplar Island and the Mid-Chesapeake Bay Island,” said Senator Van Hollen, who is also a member of the Senator Appropriations Committee. “As this bill moves through the legislative process, I will continue fighting for Maryland priorities in the Senate.”  
“Passage of the America’s Water Infrastructure Act will allow the Army Corps to maintain federal channels in Maryland, replenish Maryland beaches, protect Maryland islands and construct aquatic ecosystems in Maryland. It also will allow the Corps to dredge Maryland ports, restore Maryland’s oyster population, protect Maryland shores from coastal storm erosion and damage, and help Maryland counties meet state storm water requirements. Projects of vital importance to Maryland – like the restoration of Assateague Island, the construction of Poplar Island, the dredging of the Port of Salisbury, preparing the Port of Baltimore to accept panamax ships and the dredging of small-but-crucial channels throughout the state – are in place because they were included in a previous version of this bill,” said Cardin, who helped author the new legislation. “Water infrastructure should not be a partisan issue and I have been proud to work with my colleagues to develop legislation that will benefit our aging water resources and infrastructure. Congress has a responsibility to be a strong partner with states and localities to repair and maintain our nation’s waterways, and our nation’s hidden water infrastructure and open waters.”
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Van Hollen has worked to deliver the approved funding for Army Corps projects, ranging from dredging of the Baltimore Harbor and Knapps Narrows to beach replenishment at Ocean City. Today’s bill continues authorization of key Army Corps projects in Maryland and ensures more transparency in the process so that the Appropriations Committee can target resources more appropriately.
Senators Cardin and Van Hollen fought for the following provisions of particular note to Marylanders. America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 would:
• Reject the Trump administration’s proposed reclassification of the Poplar Island restoration project, which could imperil the progress of this national model for restoration success located in Talbot County.
• Extend the original seven-year authorization of the Mid-Bay Island Ecosystem Restoration Project, focused on James and Barren Islands in Dorchester County, by an additional three years, to total 10 years.
• Encourage Army Corps leadership to expediently complete a feasibility study of stream and wetland restoration projects in the Anacostia River watershed in Prince George’s County.
The new legislation includes improvements, fought for by Senators Cardin and Van Hollen, to the Army Corps decision-making process on project funding that better considers the economic value of small, dockside businesses that cater to the recreation and tourism economies. Important throughout Maryland, these businesses currently have no process by which to appeal the Corps’ benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) findings in cases when they feel their values have been overlooked. The America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 will create an appeals process by which a local community can appeal the BCR calculation in order to show these missed benefits and ask that they be included.
The new legislation includes S. 1137, the Clean, Safe, Reliable Water Infrastructure Act, which addresses the need to invest in our nation’s drinking water, sewer, and stormwater systems, and to provide for increased water efficiency. It specifically includes funding to protect the sources of our drinking water and funding to repair and eliminate combined sewer overflows, which dump raw sewage into our nation’s waterways every time it rains.
And the new legislation includes S. 692, The Water Infrastructure Flexibility Act, which addresses affordability issues that are so important in cities like Baltimore, where the bill addresses integrated planning and the promotion of green infrastructure, promoting more localized control.
The new legislation also includes S. 451, the Water Resources Research Amendments Act, which addresses the need for additional research into increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of new and existing water treatment works.
In addition, the new legislation addresses the need for information about onsite waste water recycling as one alternative for communities that cannot afford the up-front costs or maintenance costs of traditional wastewater infrastructure.
The new legislation also creates a multiagency federal task force to study the problem of funding and financing stormwater infrastructure. The task force will, with feedback from permittees, state and local governments, and other program stakeholders, provide in a report to Congress suggestions for improving the funding and financing of stormwater systems – especially important as stormwater pollution is the fastest-growing contributor to nitrogen and phosphorous in the Chesapeake Bay. 
Nationally, the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 also would:
• Expand water storage capabilities
• Assist local communities in complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act in upgrading aging drinking water, wastewater and irrigation systems
• Reduce flooding risks for rural, western, and coastal communities
• Ensure that America maintains the competitiveness of our coastal and inland ports, and maintain the navigability of our inland waterways
• Create a new framework to allow for more Corps projects to be budgeted at the regional and local level, with local stakeholder input, as opposed to just at the national level
• Authorize or reauthorize important water infrastructure programs and projects that benefit the entire country
• Addresses significant water infrastructure needs in tribal communities
Read the text of the bill here.