What the Water Resources Development Act can do for the Everglades, Gulf coast, and iconic watersheds of the West
The Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee recently voted unanimously to advance the Water Resources Development Act of 2022, important two-year legislation that authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out flood control, improve waterways, and conduct ecosystem restoration work. Past WRDA bills have also addressed water infrastructure policy and financing.
Why WRDA Matters
The TRCP has long advocated for conservation priorities in the biennial WRDA process because it presents several opportunities to support federal investments in ecosystem restoration and natural infrastructure approaches that benefit fish and wildlife habitat.
Hunters and anglers may not know that the Corps is the primary federal manager of the nation’s water resources and plays a critical role in planning, designing, and implementing water resource projects, while protecting communities from floods and other natural hazards. The Corps’ mission area also includes ecosystem restoration, and it is a driving force behind the implementation of many largescale projects that benefit sportsmen and sportswomen, particularly in the Everglades and Mississippi River Delta.
More recent WRDAs have expanded the Corps’ focus to include implementing natural infrastructure approaches—where healthy habitat can help solve infrastructure challenges, such as restoring floodplains and coastal wetlands to reduce the vulnerability of critical infrastructure and communities to natural disasters. Wetland and riparian restoration projects provide numerous public benefits while boosting the habitat that supports sportfish, waterfowl, and other species.
So, hunters and anglers should take note as WRDA moves through Congress this year. A strong WRDA ensures that the Corps has the authorization to carry out restoration and prioritize natural infrastructure across the country.
What to Watch for in WRDA ‘22
Thanks in large part to the TRCP and our partners’ advocacy efforts, the Senate version of the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 includes several important victories for hunters and anglers as it heads for a floor vote. The bill clarifies the federal cost-share for ecosystem restoration in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, lowers the local cost burdens for the Mississippi River Interbasin Project and the Lower Mississippi River Comprehensive Study, and would expedite a western Everglades ecosystem restoration study.
Importantly, the legislation also calls for the Corps to conduct a study evaluating the benefits of utilizing natural infrastructure approaches, such as restoring source watersheds to enhance the resilience of Western water supplies, critical water storage, and delivery infrastructure to drought and wildfire. Across the West, drought and fire are reducing the quantity of water available to fish, wildlife, agricultural producers, and residents, and degrading the quality of water as post-fire debris flows downstream.
Emerging evidence indicates that nature-based solutions, such as restoring wetland systems upstream of critical water infrastructure, can help to mitigate these impacts, but additional research and demonstration will be helpful in encouraging greater utilization of nature-based approaches. If WRDA passes with this provision, the Corps would utilize information gained from the study to further integrate nature-based approaches into Western water management in ways that benefit people and the environment.
This year’s WRDA is still only partway through the legislative process, and the TRCP will continue to look for additional opportunities to expand the use of natural infrastructure in the USACE’s work. For example, there could be a reduced cost-share on natural infrastructure projects to ensure that disadvantaged communities can access them. A holistic accounting of the benefits of natural infrastructure would enable these projects to be more competitive with (and ultimately considered over) traditional gray infrastructure.
Top photo by Bob Wick / BLM Colorado via Flickr.