September 15, 2016

Warner, Kaine Praise Virginia Provisions In Bipartisan Water Infrastructure Bill

Legislation would authorize new water infrastructure in the Commonwealth and maintain resiliency efforts in Hampton Roads

WASHINGTON—U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded Senate passage of the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which authorizes $10.6 billion in water infrastructure projects across the nation. This bill makes investments in harbor dredging, maintenance of locks and dams, flood control, ecosystem restoration and other water-related priorities around the nation. Additionally, the bill includes a package of measures to address the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, as well as steps to lessen risks for similar communities across the country with aging drinking water infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ biennial infrastructure report card gives Virginia an overall grade of C- for the state of its water and transportation infrastructure.

“I am pleased to see that this bipartisan legislation addresses the funding needs of Flint and other communities that may experience drinking water crises while also boosting essential conservation and restoration priorities for Virginia,” said Sen. Warner. “Chincoteague Island will receive additional support for flood and erosion controls, and the Chesapeake Bay restoration project will see a $40 million dollar increase. In addition, Old Dominion University will benefit through creation of an interagency working group to support existing state-level efforts to address sea level rise and climate change.”

“This bipartisan bill authorizes new water infrastructure, improves how we manage Virginia treasures like the Chesapeake Bay and Chincoteague Island, and prioritizes greater federal investment in sea level rise resilience in low-lying coastal communities like Hampton Roads, which is second in the nation to New Orleans in sea level rise risk,” said Sen. Kaine. “I’m particularly pleased that this bill ensures the ongoing federal role in Hampton Roads resiliency efforts coordinated by the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency at ODU and VIMS. The large amount of work already underway in this space is being done by many separate entities —the Navy, the Army Corps, federal agencies like FEMA and HUD, state agencies, Hampton Roads regional planning bodies and localities like Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. This bill will encourage everyone to work together through one clearinghouse and coordinate in common purpose, which will help improve regional planning and ensure that federal investments in Coastal Virginia have maximum impact.”

The following list includes several provisions for which Warner and Kaine advocated that were included in the final bill:

  • A study of Chincoteague Island evaluating the perennial flooding and erosion challenges facing the region and examining options of how to fix these issues, how much they would cost, and how much the federal cost-share would be. With nearly 2.3 million visitors last year, Assateague Island National Seashore and the adjacent Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge are premiere tourism destinations on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Extreme weather events have occurred frequently in recent years, including last January’s blizzard that caused some $725,000 in damage and nearly destroyed the recreational beach parking lot. 
  • Reauthorization and funding increase for the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration Program, a successful public-private partnership among the Army Corps of Engineers, states, localities, and groups like The Nature Conservancy. This program has helped reverse years of declining oyster populations in the Bay by supporting oyster reef projects in key Virginia locations, such as the Rappahannock, Lafayette and Piankatank Rivers. The additional funds authorized in this provision will help Virginia and other Bay watershed states reach the 2025 pollution reduction goals laid out in the Chesapeake Bay Agreement.
  • Section 4013 updates an existing coastal resiliency program to prioritize federal funds for projects in communities threatened by sea level rise while creating an interagency working group to coordinate data on sea level rise across federal agencies. It also requires federal consultation with state organizations working to coordinate resilience investment across federal, state, regional, and local bureaucratic entities. This will promote more informed decision-making about sea level rise planning in key regions like Hampton Roads, while ensuring that resilience-related grants from multiple agencies are serving complementary objectives. This provision will also provide formal federal backing for state-sponsored task forces like the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency – an interagency, cross-jurisdictional clearinghouse for Hampton Roads sea level rise planning co-led by Old Dominion University and William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

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