Environmental legislation we can agree on

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I like to write about something Congress does that we can applaud, although it happens about as often as Colin Kaepernick is named “Patriot of the Year” by the local VFW. However, sometime this week President Obama is expected to sign the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, legislation that holds some provisions that can be good for boating.

As is typical of bills containing myriad provisions, it’s hard to get a handle on it. So why is it potentially good for boating? Here’s my crib sheet:

The WRDA is also known as the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN). National Marine Manufacturers Association vice president of federal and legal affairs Nicole Vasilaros has been working with Congress for a year to educate them on the importance of the WRDA to recreational boating.

Overall, the $10 billion bill authorizes 25 Army Corps projects in 17 states, critical funding for improvements and upkeeps of waterways and harbors, and includes ecosystems, dredging, flood control and navigation programs.

More specifically, the bill promotes clean waters and public access for recreation by authorizing several projects to restore critical ecosystems, including the ongoing restoration of the Florida Everglades and a project to revitalize the Los Angeles River. The bill also promotes the restoration of significant water bodies including the Columbia River, Puget Sound, Salton Sea, Chesapeake Bay, North Atlantic Coast, Rio Grande, Lake Tahoe, Long Island Sound and the Great Lakes.

For the Great Lakes, the bill reauthorizes estuary habitat restoration projects and the much-sought-after Environmental Protection Agency's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through fiscal year 2021.

For California interests, the WRDA provides for the transfer of additional water from Northern California to the Central Valley. This need has been considered critical to California’s fisheries programs and opposition to this provision was successfully defeated.

The bill authorizes various navigation, recreation, flood-risk management, hurricane and storm damage, ecosystem and/or river shoreline projects in Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

Interestingly, the bill also provides money for aging drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects. Wastewater, in particular, is frequently cited as a contributor to the algae growth and fish “dead zones” hitting a growing list of our nation’s inland and coastal waters.

In fact, numerous studies have shown a significant gap between water infrastructure investment needs and funds available or spent. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in the U.S. a grade of D. So addressing the wastewater infrastructure could prove positive for dealing with algae problems (although agricultural runoff is still known to be the primary contributor).

Finally, the WRDA has other provisions that could impact boating. For instance, it establishes requirements for no-wake zones in Intracoastal Waterway navigation channels. It contains revisions to Table Rock Lake plans and land in McIntosh County, Okla., to be held in trust for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation; The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council will be required to issue regulations for environmental bank preservation projects that provide credits to offset adverse environmental impacts; and the Army Corp is now authorized to operate a fish hatchery if it is to restore threatened or endangered fish species.

While we can take a victory lap now, the real work could still be ahead when it comes to specific project details and locations and, of course, appropriations. But, for today, it’s appears to be all good news.


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