Orange County Branch Newsletter

May 2014

Secretary's Column

Water Resources Reform and Development Act

By Steven King, P.E.

In March, I participated in ASCE’s Annual Legislative Fly-In to Washington D.C. for the first time.  Along with nearly 200 members from across the country, I was excited to visit with legislators and staff to discuss a few topics important to the civil engineering profession.  Connecting with congress and advocating for funding to meet America’s infrastructure needs is one of many ways to get involved with ASCE’s Key Contact Program.  One of this year’s key topics included the Water Resources Development Act that was in conference committee between the Senate and House of Representatives.

Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014, as it’s now called, serves as Congress’ authorization of the key missions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including developing, maintaining, and supporting the nation’s economic vital waterway infrastructure and supporting effective and targeted flood protection and environmental restoration needs.  Beyond simply authorizing ongoing funding, several valuable reforms and new programs were included in the bill.  

WRRDA strengthens the National Dam Safety Program to provide stronger safety requirements, upgrade emergency preparedness plans to prevent dam failures, and improve recovery plans. The primary objective of the Corps’ Dam Safety Program is to maintain public safety by making sure dams owned and operated by the Corps are safe, and the risks to the public are minimized.  A few important dams managed by the Corps protecting Orange County include the Brea, Carbon Canyon, Fullerton, and Prado Dams.

Orange County claims 1 of the 34 vital water resources projects identified for authorization in the WRRDA.  The San Clemente Shoreline Project completed technical review by the Corp of Engineers and was recommended by the Corp’s Chief of Engineers to be authorized by congress. The proposed project aims to provide coastal storm damage prevention and beachfront preservation by constructing of a 50 foot wide beach nourishment berm along a 3,412 foot stretch of shoreline in San Clemente. The berm design calls for 17 feet elevation with an 8:1 foreshore slope consisting of over 250,000 cubic yards of sediment.  Without the project, public properties and structures would continue to be susceptible to damages caused by erosion, inundation, and wave action.  The project area includes the LOSSAN rail corridor which is a vital link for both passenger and freight service and has been designated as a Strategic Rail Corridor by the Department of Defense.  Initial construction is expected to be followed up with 8 periodic re-nourishments over the 50 year life of the project.  The project cost is estimated at nearly $99 million split between federal and local funding sources with an initial construction value of $11,300,000.

WRRDA also establishes the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), a 5 year $350 million pilot program allowing agencies to utilize federal loans for projects. The program is modeled after the Department of Transportation’s highly successful TIFIA program that provides credit assistance in the form of direct loans and loan guarantees to finance surface transportation projects of national and regional significance.  The credit assistance provides improved access to capital markets with favorable repayment terms to fund large projects that may otherwise be delayed.       

By passing the WRRDA, congress will be taking an important step toward addressing America’s infrastructure needs.  ASCE’s 2012 Nation Report Card graded Dams at a D level and Levees at D- while Ports and inland waterways received respective grades of C and D-.  These poor grades illustrate America’s need for water infrastructure improvements including maintenance, preservation, and expansion.  WRRDA is a move in the right direction for keeping America safe and sustaining its long term economic competitiveness.          

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