Wicker: Water Resources Bill Would Move Mississippi Projects Forward

Bipartisan Legislation Passes Senate With Broad Support

September 19, 2016

Earlier this year, I toured a site on the Pearl River in Hinds and Rankin counties where construction of a new underwater dam, also known as a weir, could protect the Jackson metro area from disastrous flooding. The “Water Resources Development Act” (WRDA) is a step in the right direction for this type of flood-control project, as well as a host of other improvements to our state’s ports and waterways.

As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I worked to ensure that Mississippi priorities were included in WRDA during the committee process. Before the final version of the bill was passed, Sen. Thad Cochran and I advocated for provisions like the expansion of the Delta Headwaters Project, which addresses flooding and problems with erosion and sedimentation in the Yazoo Basin.

Dependable, Safe, and Efficient Waterways

The Senate’s recent passage of WRDA by a vote of 95 to 3 is yet another example of bipartisan achievement under Republican leadership. Its widespread support underscores the importance of maintaining and modernizing our water infrastructure in ways that promote commerce and minimize public harm during storms and other disasters. This year’s WRDA would authorize Corps of Engineers projects with these goals in mind. A dependable, safe, and efficient national transportation system – on water, on land, and in the air – can have far-reaching effects, such as keeping U.S. businesses competitive and keeping prices down for consumers.

Our state stands to benefit directly from a number of provisions in WRDA, including the dredging of shallow draft ports on the Mississippi River and the authorization of Army Corps assessments on coastal resilience. Additional WRDA measures would help an environmental infrastructure project in DeSoto County, the restoration of our Gulf Coast oyster habitats, and small communities that need technical assistance with federal wastewater funding programs.

A Focus on High-Hazard Dams

I am especially pleased with WRDA’s efforts to improve dam safety and protect our communities from dam failures. Mississippi has more than 300 dams classified as “high-hazard-potential” because their failure would likely endanger lives, homes, and ecosystems. There are thousands more of these high-hazard-potential dams across the country. Many of the dams are in small communities that lack the financial resources to make needed repairs. WRDA would expand FEMA’s National Dam Safety Program to assist states with the repair or removal of high-hazard-potential dams through federal grants.

Even though Congress should pass a water resources bill every two years, the 2014 WRDA was the first to pass Congress in seven years. Enactment of the 2016 WRDA would be a welcome return to the two-year schedule. The legislation still needs to be approved by the House of Representatives before it is sent to the White House and signed into law.

Until then, the Senate is sending the right message. America’s water infrastructure matters to the well-being of our communities, the potential for job creation, and vibrant economic growth and development. Passing WRDA is a smart investment in our country’s future.