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    WRRDA Conference Report

    by Former Senator Carl Levin

    Posted on 2014-05-22

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    LEVIN. Madam President, I will support this legislation to strengthen our Nation's water infrastructure. For Michigan, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, WRRDA, means that harbors, channels, breakwaters, and locks in the Great Lakes will be better maintained; Federal assistance for wastewater system upgrades will be more flexible and affordable; and the Great Lakes fishery will be better protected from destructive invasive species. Surrounded by water on all but one side, Michigan is a water state and our waters fuel our economy, create jobs, offer a vast array of recreational opportunities, and provide drinking water to millions. I am pleased this bill will help protect our waters and improve their navigability.

    The report makes progress on increasing funding for harbor maintenance, with the goal of aligning revenues collected in the harbor maintenance trust fund with those expended for this purpose. Over 5 years have passed since I led a bipartisan and multiregional group of Senators to call to the attention of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee the imbalance in collections and spending for harbor maintenance. I am pleased the committee worked with us to reduce this disparity. This conference report aims to increase spending on harbor maintenance so that it is more in line with the fees collected for maintaining our Nation's navigation infrastructure. I am also pleased the Great Lakes navigation system is prioritized for the increased funds through a specific set-aside of 10 percent. Also, Great Lakes projects are eligible for other types of prioritized funds, which will position us to compete for this additional assistance.

    The conference report authorizes the Great Lakes as a single navigational system, recognizing the interconnectedness of its 140 harbor projects. During Senate consideration of the water resources bill, I entered into a colloquy with Chairman Boxer to discuss the system's interdependence. I am pleased the conference committee included this Great Lakes authorization, as it should help allow all of our harbors--both large and small--to be recognized for Federal assistance.

    While the harbor maintenance provisions in the report are good, we will still need to continue to fight for appropriations and ensure that budget requests reflect the true needs of the Great Lakes Navigation System. This vital transportation network carries about 130 million tons of critical commodities to supply raw materials to our manufacturing sector, power homes and businesses, build roads and bridges, and provide food for people around the world. Surely it should be maintained so that it can carry these critical commodities effectively and efficiently.

    In addition to carrying millions of tons of goods, the Great Lakes also boast a $7 billion fishery. To protect this significant resource, destructive invasive species need to be kept out of the lakes. I am pleased the conferees retained an important provision I worked with my colleagues to include in the Senate bill, an authorization for the Corps of Engineers to implement emergency measures to prevent invasive species, including the destructive Asian carp, from dispersing into the Great Lakes. This authorization makes clear that such emergency authority can be implemented at any hydrologic connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins which will provide important flexibility to the Corps to respond to emergencies.

    Our Nation's economy, health, and well-being depend on a strong water infrastructure. WRRDA makes progress in authorizing programs to strengthen our navigation systems, flood control, drinking water and wastewater systems, and natural resources. We now [[Page S3272]] need to make sure that appropriations are provided for these improvements to be made real.

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