President Obama signs Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act
Bipartisan bill secures funding, policy for freshwater efforts like Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
Chicago, IL | December 19, 2016
President Obama has signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, a bill the U.S. Senate passed earlier this month by a bipartisan 78-21 vote. The bill included the final version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016.
The Senate’s vote followed a similarly strong vote of 360-61 in the U.S. House of Representatives.
WRDA provides the programs, policies and projects regarding the development and restoration of rivers, coastlines, harbors and waterways in America. The bill authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to meet our nation’s water needs, protect communities from floods and storms, enable navigation, and restore freshwater and coastal ecosystems.
“Here in the Great Lakes region, we are very grateful to basin state delegates for their support of this bill which will solidify critical funding and policy for our lakes and waterways to thrive,” said Dennis McGrath, Great Lakes Director at The Nature Conservancy. “This signals ongoing collaboration and stewardship of the lakes with authorization of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and re-authorization of the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act.”
Though the WIIN Act has many benefits nationwide, the Great Lakes – the largest surface freshwater system in the world – will receive $1.5 billion over five years (via the GRLI) to strengthen fish and wildlife protection, Great Lakes Navigation systems and updates to freshwater infrastructure. Some 3,000 projects have been completed across the 8-state basin since the inception of GRLI in 2010.
“The Senate’s approval of the final, negotiated bill is an important step forward for projects and policies that will benefit our economy, the environment and the public safety of our nation’s communities,” said Lynn Scarlett, The Nature Conservancy’s Managing Director for Public Policy. “It shows the continued broad support for sensible management of our water resources. The bill includes a stronger focus on the role natural and nature-based solutions can play to help meet the needs of people and communities. Nature is often our first and most effective line of defense against natural disasters such as flooding and storms, so appropriate consideration of nature-based solutions in projects is smart and efficient. While we had hoped Congress might go further, the legislation makes important improvements in the use, protection and restoration of our rivers, coasts and other water resources.”
Important policy changes in the bill:
- provide a limited, yet reasonable, time period for how long ecosystem restoration projects should be monitored and actively maintained once a project has achieved its restoration objective;
- improve mitigation projects, including work to advance and consider habitat connectivity;
- clarify that emergency flood responses consider restoration and protection of natural resources, including the use of wetlands, natural floodplains, coastal dunes, and ocean reefs;
- advance the use of nature-based infrastructure and coastal resiliency;
- address the safety of high-hazard dams, including a new funding program to support their rehabilitation or removal;
- improve the use of federal funds for drinking water issues and concerns about lead and other contaminants that continue to plague water supply systems across the country; and
- increase funding for the WaterSMART program, which supports planning and projects to improve water supply resilience and conservation.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.