Inhofe Secures Major Victory For Oklahoma Water Infrastructure

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), today voted in favor of S. 601, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2013, which passed the Senate by a vote of 83-14. The bill authorizes new water infrastructure projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and will significantly reduce the backlog of water projects across the country.

“It is Congress’s constitutional duty to build and maintain our country’s critical national infrastructure, and the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 is essential to meeting this obligation,” said Inhofe. “This bill includes monumental reforms to the environmental review and permitting process that must be followed by the Corps, eliminating unnecessary red tape while significantly reducing the bureaucratic backlog of unfinished projects. Ensuring Oklahoma’s vital inland waterway connection to the domestic and international markets is essential to the continued growth and prosperity of Oklahoma’s agriculture, manufacturing, and energy industries. Furthermore, Oklahoma will benefit greatly from the provisions in the bill that make it easier for rural communities to compete for financing to meet the EPA’s unfunded mandates, authorizes expansion of the Port of Catoosa, and forces transparency on unfair federal water pricing rules.”

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) authorizes the construction of major navigation and flood risk management projects in a deficit neutral manner with no new direct spending. The bill provides the Corps of Engineers the flexibility to work with non-federal sponsors such as states and local communities on planning assistance, feasibility studies, and project construction. Included are provisions that require the Army Corps of Engineers to meet deadlines and more expediently resolve all environmental reviews, including the Endangered Species Act.

Sen. Inhofe was able the ensure the following provisions were included in the final Senate bill:

Expansion of the Port of Catoosa

Inhofe Amendment 797 would allow the Tulsa Port of Catoosa to exchange land currently owned by the Army Corps of Engineers with land owned by the Port Authority. The land exchange will allow Port operations to expand and attract industrial growth to the region.

“I applaud Sen. Inhofe for his initiative and work on the Senate WRDA bill.  His commitment to the state of Oklahoma runs deep and I look forward to continuing the efforts on a WRDA bill in the House.”  --Congressman Markwayne Mullin

“This proposed land swap will enable the Port to construct, at its expense, a critically needed fleeting area in the former Verdigris River Bed and in exchange, provide the Corps with highly desirable land as a spoil area for dredged material,” said Bob Portiss, Port Director at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa.  “These are the type of local-Federal partnership projects that should be encouraged by Congress.”

Examination of Unfair Federal Water Pricing Practices

Communities across the country are exploring long-term water supply solutions for their citizens. Unfortunately, water storage supplied by the Army Corps of Engineers can be cost-prohibitive due to archaic water storage formulas that produce highly disparate water storage prices. Section 2016 would require a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on water storage pricing formulas and allow Congress to address water storage pricing issues.

Currently, the City of Bartlesville, Okla., pays $68 per acre/ft. for water on Lake Hulah. Proposals for purchasing water from nearby Lake Copan were quoted to be $1,997 per acre/ft.

Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.-1) added, “Water storage pricing has been a major issue for Bartlesville for years.  This provision will open a path forward for addressing the problem. Sen. Inhofe’s amendments address a number of critical needs in my District.”

Provides Water Infrastructure Financing to Rural Communities

During Markup, Sen. Inhofe worked with the EPW committee to authorize the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program. The WIFIA program is modeled after the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program included in the 2012 MAP-21 highway legislation and would allow for much needed financing for water infrastructure projects. Sen. Inhofe introduced Amendment 835, which would ensure small, rural municipalities can compete with larger metropolitan areas for WIFIA financing by lowering the cost threshold for qualified projects from $20 million to $5 million for communities with less than 25,000 residents. By creating a lower project cost threshold for smaller communities, this amendment will provide financing to rehabilitate crumbling drinking and wastewater treatment facilities, improve storm water management, and enhance waterway infrastructure and storage facilities for rural communities.

"As we wrestle with the huge water infrastructure needs facing this country, it's important to also remember the disproportionate struggles that rural Americans face each and every day,” said director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board J.D. Strong. “Nothing is more critical to a vibrant rural economy than clean, safe and sanitary water infrastructure.”

CEO of the National Rural Water Association Rob Johnson added, "Many western rural areas have never had adequate water supplies and have a need for a reliable water supply to attract and maintain rural economic and public health. Many rural communities in the west are still hauling water for drinking. The Inhofe amendment will increase federal funding to develop rural water supplies and will result in more solutions to the water problems facing the rural west as well as assisting these families with receiving clean water for the first time."

Expands Local Control Over Project Development

In an effort to expedite projects, section 2026 authorizes a program whereby non-federal sponsors may conduct previously authorized feasibility studies on their own. Tulsa County would be able to compete in the program, which would allow them to conduct a feasibility study for the Arkansas River Corridor Development Project.

“The new language in WRDA provides the best opportunity for Tulsa County to continue to move forward in partnership with the Corps in the long cherished goal of eco-system restoration and responsible development of the Arkansas River corridor.  The potential of future federal match credit for costs incurred in the feasibility study is welcome news,” said Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG) Executive Director Rich Brierre.

Exempts Small Farms and Ranches From EPA Regulations

Inhofe secured a permanent exemption from the EPA's Spill Prevention Control Countermeasure (SPCC) rule for farmers and ranchers. Inhofe championed an amendment that would exempt all tanks of 1,000 gallons or less from the rule, and farms with an aggregate tank storage capacity of 2,500 gallons or less would not have to comply with the rule.  Farms with tank storage capacities of between 2,500 gallons and 6,000 gallons would have a temporary exemption, pending a study by the United States Department of Agriculture and the EPA. The provision also greatly limits the instances when professional engineers must certify spill plans.

President of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau Mike Spradling added, “We are grateful for Sen. Inhofe’s common sense approach to lessen the regulatory burden for our farmers and ranchers. The government should be trying to help us produce more food and fiber, rather than obstructing production with these expensive, unnecessary regulations.”

"We want to thank Sen. Inhofe for his leadership fighting to exempt small farms from the SPCC rule.  It is a great victory for Oklahoma's farmers and ranchers," said Terry Detrich, President of Oklahoma Farmers and Ranchers.

Removes Federal Red Tape on Local Water Use

Inhofe worked with members of the EPW Committee to addresses water shortfalls across the country like the cities of Duncan, Lawton, Comanche, Temple, Walters and Waurika are experiencing. Section 3008 would authorize the reassignment of unused irrigation storage on Waurika Lake to be used for various municipal purposes in the region.

“This legislation will allow the rest of Lake Waurika's water storage to be purchased and used by the citizens of Oklahoma,” said Dave Taylor, district manager of the Waurika Lake Master Conservancy District.  “That is a welcome event in an area where drought has continued and even intensified.  It also points out how everyone, working together can creatively solve a problem.  Many thanks to Sen. Inhofe."

Ensures Local Stakeholder Involvement on Important Waterway

Language in section 5006 would establishes an advisory committee for the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) to be made up of system stakeholders who will provide recommendations to the Corps of Engineers relating to efficiency, reliability, and availability of MKARNS.

Accelerates Emergency Construction on McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigations System

Inhofe Amendment 867 would allow for non-federal sponsors of Corps of Engineers projects to contribute funding to the operations and maintenance of the project during an emergency or natural disaster. Doing so would expedite funding for significant projects since the sponsors will no longer need to wait on the federal government to grant additional emergency funding to the project.

Lifts Federal Prohibition on Locally Generated Power

Inhofe amendment 895 would allow entities such as the Cherokee Nation to construct, operate, and market a hydroelectric generating facility on the W.D. Mayo Lock and Dam on the Arkansas River.

“The Cherokee Nation is extremely grateful for the support and hard work of Sen. Inhofe to ensure this measure was included in the WRDA bill.  We are reviewing all of our renewable energy options, and because of his efforts, one important potential resource, hydroelectric generation at the W.D. Mayo Lock and Dam, is finally close to becoming a reality," said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. "I have worked personally with the Senator and his talented staff as they pushed this measure through.   We couldn't be more pleased with Sen. Inhofe for his leadership on this issue.”

Expedited Project Delivery and Accountability

The WRDA bill has a number of important environmental permitting streamlining provisions that will ensure that duplicative and onerous environmental reviews do not hold up projects indefinitely. Failing to make these reforms increases costs to the taxpayer and creates a chilling effect on the private sector’s willingness to invest in local communities and industries that rely on our nation’s inland waterway to transport goods and services to markets in the U.S. and around the world.

It also sets up a process for better coordination between the Corps of Engineers and other federal and non-federal participants in the project review process.  It expands the role for state and local agencies, sets up a comprehensive issue resolution process, and creates deadlines for when comments must be made on environmental documents.   Additionally, it includes provisions to ensure that additional environmental reviews are completed within 180 days of the main environmental document.