The Waterways Council and American Farm Bureau late last week announced support for the recently released draft language of the House's Water Resources Reform & Development Act.
House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee members revealed the bill text Sept. 12. They have scheduled markup for Sept. 19.
"Bipartisan WRRDA legislation is vitally needed for the economic well-being of our nation," said Michael Toohey, Waterways Council president. "We have waited six long years for the opportunity to address reforms necessary to achieve modernization of our inland waterways transportation system."
The Senate has already passed its version of waterway reform legislation, which is intended to redistribute funds for waterway infrastructure improvement and improve shipping on inland waterways.
Congress had passed similar legislation every two years to provide clear direction to the Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers, but no bill has been signed into law since 2007.
Reviews of the bill text were generally positive, though WCI's Toohey said the bill could be improved with the addition of the WAVE 4 act, also known as H.R. 1149. Toohey said the provision would add an industry-supported increased user fee into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which would allow reinvestment in waterways infrastructure.
WCI explained that 57% of the nation's locks and dams have exceeded their life expectancy, while funding for their maintenance has remained flat or decreased.
"Inland waterways operators, along with stakeholders from the agriculture, labor, business and manufacturing sectors, depend upon a reliable and efficient waterways system to transport their goods to domestic and international marketplaces in the most cost-competitive, fuel-efficient, environmentally sound way," WCI said.
That statement was backed up by American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman, who said 41 states, including all states east of the Mississippi River and 16 state capitals are served by commercially navigable waterways. He added that more than 60% of America's grain exports and many other important commodities such as fuel, coal and agricultural inputs also move through the inland waterway system.
"Due to this importance, Farm Bureau policy explicitly supports the maintenance and improvement of our transportation infrastructure including the lock and dam system and other vital waterway infrastructure," Stallman said.
Toohey agreed. "The country needs a robust and vital water transportation system to move commerce safely and efficiently and keep pace with future demand," he noted. "We applaud the bipartisan leadership of the House Transportation Committee for this important step forward."