Last week, at a roundtable event celebrating “infrastructure week,” I was asked if President Trump made a mistake by not making infrastructure his first policy priority on January 21st, 2017 – and instead working to undermine the Affordable Care Act. My response: Absolutely.
From our transportation infrastructure including roads, highways and bridges, to our water infrastructure of waterways, ports, beaches and drinking water systems, these networks are the lifelines of our economy, and it’s not too late for those of us who are serious about making investments in our infrastructure to make progress. Investments in these networks don’t just create jobs, they support nearly every aspect of our daily lives, helping goods and people move more efficiently and delivering vital services like water and sewer systems and even storm and flood prevention and management.
In Delaware, the lowest lying state in the country, we rely on our water infrastructure more than most. Our port in Wilmington moves four million tons of cargo each year and supports 5,900 direct and indirect jobs and our coastline and beach communities employ 59,000 Delawareans – a full tenth of our total workforce. That’s why I’m not waiting for the president to invest in Delaware.
For months, I have been negotiating a bipartisan bill that invests in our country’s water infrastructure systems, including our port, our beaches and our drinking water systems across the First State. The America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 reauthorizes the operations of the Army Corps of Engineers, which helps manage most of our nation’s waterways, ports, coasts and beaches, while also making a number of improvements in their operations that will help Delaware and states across the country better manage their water infrastructure in the years ahead.
Earlier this week, the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, on which I serve as the top Democrat, voted unanimously, 21 in favor and zero opposed, to advance my water infrastructure legislation to be considered by the full Senate. At a time when partisanship has nearly brought Washington to a stand-still, this bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Republicans John Barrasso (Wyoming) and Jim Inhofe (Oklahoma) and Democrat Ben Cardin (Maryland), focuses on something everyone can agree on – that investing in our water infrastructure is crucial for our economy and helps every American community.
Along with smart investments in water infrastructure across the country, this bill includes many of Delaware’s top priorities that will continue to drive our economy forward and positively impact every community across the First State. Specifically, in the bill:
- We increase the existing height limit authorization for the deposit of dredge material from the Delaware River dredging project from 10 feet to 35 feet, a necessary development to expand the Port of Wilmington at the new Edgemoor location and double its annual output;
- We create a new $50 million dollar program for groundwater and well water testing and treatment, and enhance Army Corps emergency assistance authorities to help Delaware communities recover faster, better and stronger after disasters;
- We create a $25 million dollar water resiliency grant program to help Delaware communities invest in their drinking water infrastructure;
- We authorize $75 million in appropriations for a new Mid-Atlantic beach nourishment and shoreline protection pilot program;
- We permanently exempt beach renourishment projects from the Army Corps’ budget-to-cost calculations, which previously delayed or stopped a number of these projects;
- We require the Army Corps to consider natural infrastructure alternatives – like the dune systems protecting Rehoboth and Bethany Beach – in studies addressing flood and storm damage reduction;
- We require the Army Corps to maintain a balance sheet of local funding contributions and expenditures and to either return unspent state and local funds for use in future projects or apply those funds to another local project;
- We push the Army Corps to complete feasibility studies for new projects in two years, including the “Delaware Back Bays” study, designed to help with inland flooding;
- We reauthorize the Water Infrastructure Flexibility Act (WIFIA) which provides low-cost loans to states and look to enhance the drinking water and wastewater financing tool for local communities;
- We authorize the Securing Required Funding for Water Infrastructure Now (SRF WIN) Act to allow rural and small communities to better leverage existing funding;
- We invest in the development of a strong water utility workforce in Delaware and across the country;
- We provide state and local leaders an increased role in prioritizing Army Corps projects; and,
- We require the Army Corps to examine the Port of Wilmington and all ports of call as possible locations for offshore wind deployment.
Our water infrastructure legislation isn’t across the finish line yet, but our bipartisan efforts are helping us make progress where others have failed. In the end, I hope our work can be used as a model for the rest of Congress and that Delaware’s economy and communities will experience the benefits of this legislation for years to come.