Senate Approves Bill to Fund Restoration of Freshwater Systems
The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) serves as the nation’s headmost legislation pertaining to flood control, navigation, and ecosystem restoration of the country’s waterways. Developed in 1986 as a means for establishing necessary water infrastructure – dams and canals – the WRDA operates under a biennial timeframe, allowing Congress to apply necessary adjustments every two years. In accordance with this system, 2022 is the year to reassess WRDA legislation, and the Senate is adamant that their lately reformed enactment will transform the shape and tone of the nation’s fresh waterways.
Constituting a provision of $25.3 billion in financing, including the support of agencies such as the EPA, the bill will be the largest WRDA to ever exist. For states with significant ties to the fishing industry and ports, such as Washington State, this bill will provide necessary support towards water infrastructure. This funding is intended to apply needed upgrades or execute activities such as dredging, the process of excavating mud and debris from a water source to improve navigability and drainage. With an annual transport of 8.6 million tons of cargo along the Columbia River in Washington, it is critical that this water system remain unimpeded and unpolluted. “In any given year, nearly 10% of the U.S. wheat exports transit the [Columbia] River and the river cruise industry on the Columbia River Snake System provided over 25,000 cruise passengers in 2019, with over $15M in direct economic benefits to the region,” the Senate stated in a press release.
Perhaps even more integral than ensuring effortless navigation, the WRDA bill includes a targeted agenda pertaining to fish restoration. A keystone species of the Pacific Northwest region, Salmon enjoy the critical task of transporting vast amounts of marine nutrients from the ocean to the headwaters of low productivity rivers. While at sea, salmon will maintain a diet containing high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen; as the fish mature, these nutrients are accumulated and absorbed into their bodies. During the renowned migration of the salmon back to freshwater rivers, these vital nutrients are expelled via urination, as well as through predatorial consumption and defecation. This natural mechanism of nutrient cycling yields enriched soil and the resurgence of biodiversity, in addition to providing a source of food for predators of the Northwest. Before the 20th century, an estimated 10 million to 16 million adult salmon returned to the Columbia River system, annually. Today, the return of wild fish stands at a mere 2% of that initial estimate. The issue has reached a point of concern so immense that the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office affirmed to the public, “Salmon in the Pacific Northwest need help now more than ever.”
Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) used their political position and personal connection to the subject to secure funding for water resource and salmon conservation projects in their home state. Senator Murray commented on WRDA, ““Salmon recovery has got to be a major federal priority—it’s my job to make sure it is and this year’s Water Resources Development Act has us headed in the right direction.” One of the provisions gained by Senators Murray and Cantwell, the Howard A. Hanson Dam Downstream Fish Passage Facility, is anticipated to nearly double the amount of salmon habitat by opening 100 miles of prime territory in the Upper Green River. Additional efforts within Washington include the Tacoma Harbor Deepening, dredging at the Port of Clarkston, and restoration at Duckabush Estuary. This revitalization of Washington water systems will be a preservation of the economy just as much as it is a safe blanket for the environment. Between the 16,000 jobs that are sustained by the salmon industry and countless tourists who travel to engage in the fishing and boating opportunities, the WRDA ensures that Washington need not fret over torpid salmon runs to come.
An additional provision of the WRDA includes the direction that the Army Corps, a branch of the US Military that specializes in large-scale engineering projects, examine remodeling prospects for flood control in the Columbia River Basin. Due to high annual runoff in this region, as well as inconsistent flow and storage, this project will evaluate how to improve water containment and movement, with expected benefits for both the United States and Canada. This provision also tasks the Army Corps with the responsibility to evaluate alternative water storage processes, including aquifer recharge and groundwater storage. The fruits of this endeavor are expected to produce innovative solutions to water conservation issues faced by states in the West.
With the House of Representatives passing the WRDA back in July, and the Senate recently affirming support for their own version of the bill, both chambers of Congress will need to negotiate until a finalized WRDA agreement has been reached. Much like the proposal from the House, the Senate’s WRDA undertakes the obligation to seek out solutions to water security, flood control, and fish conservation. However, unlike this former rendition, the Senate budget draft prescribes less overall funding to the EPA than the plan passed by the House, $10.6 billion as opposed to the $11.5 billion allotted back in July. Additional budget discrepancies in which the senate proposed a more limited funding than the house include: the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, lead testing grants, and funding for PFAS research. As negotiations between the two chambers are set to commence during the coming months, Congress is adamant about generating a developed and modernized interpretation of the Water Resources Development Act before the end of the calendar year. Ultimately, however, given that the bill has easily passed in both chambers, environmental groups and residents of Washington can revel in the comfort that the nation’s waterways are finally gaining the awareness they so deserve.