NGFA and 18 other members of the Agricultural Transportation Working Group (ATWG) outlined priorities for a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) as House and Senate lawmakers begin working on a conference agreement for WRDA 2022.
In a June 24 letter to leaders of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the groups praised committee leaders for passing a new WRDA bill every two years since 2014 and encouraged them to include an improved cost share formula for inland waterway projects in the 2022 bill.
Negotiators must reach an agreement between the Senate’s version of WRDA (S. 4163) passed through committee and the House’s version (H.R. 7776) passed on June 8. The Senate WRDA bill approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee on May 4 permanently improves the cost share to 75 percent general Treasury funds and 25 percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. (In the 2020 WRDA bill, NGFA, Waterways Council Inc. and other stakeholders had successfully advocated for Congress to change the cost share from 50/50 to 65/35 for 10 years.) The groups requested that the final WRDA agreement include the Senate’s provision for an updated cost share formula.
“This permanent policy change would bolster investments for U.S. inland waterways, expedite the modernization of locks and dams, and enhance the ability of ATWG members to serve domestic and global customers,” the letter stated.
Stakeholders also emphasized that any final WRDA bill should maintain navigational access to the Lower Snake River Dams (LSRDs). WRDA 2022 should neither authorize nor pave the way for the breach or removal of dams in the Columbia-Snake River System, they said.
“While proposals to breach and remove the LSRDs exist, maintaining navigation access to these dams is critical to the region’s economy and the overall competitiveness of American agriculture,” the letter stated, citing data from the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association that found the removal of barge access would require 39,000 rail cars or 152,000 semi-trucks to replace the cargo volume shipped on the Snake River in 2019.
“The ATWG supports your efforts to pass a biannual WRDA bill during this Congress,” the letter concluded. “Our associations pledge to work with you on a WRDA bill that modernizes and preserves access to the U.S. inland waterways system to boost U.S. agricultural competitiveness for decades to come."