Senate-Passed Water Bill Contains Flood Levee and GRDA Money for Oklahoma

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Breakdown of what the $10 billion water bill passed by the U.S. Senate includes for Oklahoma. Here is the release from Se. Jim Inhofe who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“With strong bipartisan support, the Republican-led Senate has once again moved an economy-boosting infrastructure bill with the passage of WRDA 2016,” Inhofe said. “Many provisions in this year’s WRDA bill will benefit Oklahoma residents and job creators, and I am committed to seeing that these provisions and WRDA 2016 are signed into law before the end of this year. WRDA 2016 ensures that Corps projects in Oklahoma, including the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System and the Tulsa and West Tulsa Levee System, continue to receive support and prioritization. Our ports, like the Port of Catoosa and the Port of Muskogee, will benefit by gaining the ability to provide funds, materials, or services to the Corps to prevent project failures and address the backlog of maintenance. WRDA 2016 will also empower the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to work with the Corps to change water storage policies to help the state, such as southwest Oklahoma, prepare for future droughts by increasing water storage and managing access to water. Since the introduction of the bill, I was able to secure additional Oklahoma provisions, to include language that gives the required Congressional approval for the water settlement recently reached by the state of Oklahoma, city of Oklahoma City, and the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations. 

“When it comes to water and wastewater infrastructure, WRDA 2016 will serve Oklahoma’s rural and small communities by providing a grant program to assist with compliance under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Cities and local municipalities will also be able to prioritize which unfunded federal mandates are most critical so that their resources can address the greatest needs first. I am proud of the bipartisan work that allowed for WRDA 2016 to move efficiently through the Senate and will continue working with my colleagues in the House to ensure that we are able to get another infrastructure bill signed into law to grow our economy and support water access across the country.” 

“I commend Congress for recognizing in 2014 that tackling the nation’s woefully inadequate water infrastructure requires a bipartisan commitment to frequent, every-other-year funding directives and policy reforms,” said J.D. Strong, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board in support of Senate passage of WRDA 2016. “Senator Inhofe and his Senate colleagues followed through on this pledge with passage of WRDA 2016, and I know many other water managers join me in urging the House to do the same. Nothing could be more important to our nation’s economy and safety than passage of WRDA 2016 and its comprehensive package of water supply, navigation, and other water infrastructure improvements, including Oklahoma’s recently negotiated Indian water rights settlement.” 

Oklahoma provisions are as follows: 

ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEER PROVISIONS

Oklahoma, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Water Agreement

On Aug. 11, the state of Oklahoma, city of Oklahoma City, and the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations reached a settlement to end a water rights and tribal sovereignty dispute stemming back to the 19th century. The settlement acknowledges tribal sovereignty and meets the tribes’ conservation guidelines for an area that spans over approximately 22 counties in south-central and southeastern Oklahoma while the state of Oklahoma would continue to manage the state’s natural water supply. The deal also guarantees Oklahoma City’s long-term access to Southeast Oklahoma as a drinking water source and sets lake limits at levels that meet tribes’ recreational, cultural and water use claims. A provision in WRDA 2016 provides for the Congressional approval required for the settlement since it involves the Department of Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“I’m glad the Senate passed this legislation and appreciate Senator Inhofe’s efforts to get this matter taken up so quickly. Having a sufficient, reliable supply of water is essential for life, economic development, manufacturing, recreational activities, and important industry sectors like energy and agriculture to name a few. Under the agreement, the state will continue to exercise its authority to manage and protect water resources in Oklahoma.  This way, existing uses of water remain secure, and it provides certainty for future development.  And the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations will have a voice in specific proceedings addressing water resources within their treaty territories,” said Governor Mary Fallin

“Oklahomans should be proud of the efforts of all parties involved in forging this historic water settlement. My office was privileged to work with the Governor, Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations and the City of Oklahoma City and their excellent legal teams to reach an agreement that is of profound benefit to all Oklahomans. I commend Senator Inhofe for his leadership and swift action in getting the agreement in front of Congress. This final step will provide certainty for the management and use of water resources in our state,” said Oklahoma Attorney Gen. Scott Pruitt. 

 “We appreciate the quick action taken by Senator Inhofe to secure Senate approval of the historic water rights agreement between the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations, the State of Oklahoma and the City of Oklahoma City. His diligent effort on this issue underscores his commitment to serve all Oklahomans. We look forward to working with the House to finalize passage of this historic act this year,” said Bill Anoatubby, governor, the Chickasaw Nation.

“We have confidence the water agreement is a good compromise that protects our natural resources in Southeast Oklahoma while addressing the needs of people living in Oklahoma City,” said Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation. 

“Oklahoma City’s growth will be propelled by our ability to manage our water and land use. This agreement ensures we have access to water through a clearly defined and orderly process for decades ahead. We are pleased to be part of this agreement and the opportunities it creates for even greater collaboration in the future,” said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.

Tulsa and West Tulsa Levee System

WRDA 2016 authorizes the Corps to develop a plan for modifying the Tulsa and West Tulsa Levee System. The Corps must provide recommendations for modifying the original levee system to address deficiencies identified in the recent levee risk assessment. The bill also requires expedited budget consideration for any parts of the system that are classified as a Class I or Class II (i.e. very high risk) under the Levee Safety Action Classification tool developed by the Corps. 

“Tulsa’s levee system protects more than 10,000 citizens and some $2 billion dollars of infrastructure including two refineries. The Corps of Engineers has determined that our levees are no longer viable. With help from this WRDA resolution we can begin the process of rehabilitating this aging levee system. A levee failure could have catastrophic environmental and economic impacts for the region. I am grateful to Senator Inhofe and his staff for their help in addressing this critical issue,” said Karen Keith, Tulsa County Commissioner, District 2

Providing Better Protection After a Flooding Disaster

WRDA 2016 gives the Corps authority to increase the level of protection when rebuilding a levee after a disaster if the Corps determines it is in the public interest, including consideration of whether the same levee has had to be rebuilt multiple times and whether there is an opportunity to reduce risk of loss of life and property.

McClellen-Kerr (MKARNS)

WRDA 2016 gives the Corps authority to establish partnerships with local entities to ensure safe, functional operation of projects along the waterway. These partnerships allow the Corps to accept and use of funds, materials and services donated by non-federal interests to help address the backlog of maintenance at Corps projects. WRDA 2016 also makes sure the project to deepen the MKARNS to support increased commerce will not be deauthorized while it is waiting for funding from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

“WRDA 2016 will help non-federal public and private entities to assist the Army Corps of Engineers repair and maintain projects on a timely basis. This will help ensure the viability and sustainability of our Nation’s Inland Waterway System of which the MKARNS is an integral part! Special thanks are due to our Oklahoma Senior Senator Jim Inhofe, Chairman of EPW, and his committee colleagues, for this invaluable legislation,” said Bob Portiss, port director for the Tulsa Port of Catoosa.

Grand River Dam Authority

WRDA 2016 conveys the Army Corps of Engineers easements on Grand Lake to GRDA. Due to multiple authorities overseeing the shoreline of Grand Lake, confusion over the maintenance of easements has led to encroachments. This provision will provide certainty and efficiency for landowners and GRDA when it comes to these easements.

Oklahoma Electric Coops

Electric cooperatives in Oklahoma have been trying to renew easement agreements with the Corps for their lines that cross Corps property. Despite not having to pay for the easements initially, the Corps is charging upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars to renew these easements. In WRDA 2016, easement fees will be waived for rural electric co-ops, allowing these non-profits to continue operating without costly fees, the need for new infrastructure, and without raising rates on their customers.

“Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives are grateful for Senator Inhofe’s leadership in the passage of the Water Resources Development Act. By providing relief from costly easement renewal fees on Corps property, WRDA 2016 ensures electric cooperatives can continue to provide safe, affordable and reliable electricity to member-owners. It is our hope that the House will now take up the Senate bill and get this much needed legislation to the President’s desk,” said Chris Myers, general manager, Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives.

Leveraging Federal Assets to Increase Water Supply

WRDA 2016 gives the Corps authority to review proposals made by the non-Federal interests to increase water supplies by increasing storage capacity, modifying project management, or accessing water that has been released. The non-Federal interest can contribute funds to the Corps to facilitate the review of a proposal.

Support for Reducing Chlorides in the Red River

Senator Inhofe has been a champion for reducing excessive chlorides in the Red River. WRDA 2016 contains several provisions to address this issue, including authorizing the Corps to facilitate transfer of desalination technologies from other countries with academic and institutional knowledge to reduce chlorides.

WRDA 2016 also clarifies the WIFIA program established by WRDA 2014 to make sure chloride control is eligible for low cost loans from this program and that funds already expended on reducing chlorides in the Red River count towards the calculation of project costs. The bill provides startup money for the WIFIA program that will support over $4 billion in low cost loans for projects in Oklahoma and across the U.S.

WRDA 2016 also establishes a program to provide assistance for the development of innovative technologies to address water supply issues, including chloride control, and reauthorizes the Water Resources Research Act and the Water Desalination Act of 1996.

Expediting Permit Reviews

WRDA 2016 expands the current authority for the Corps to accept funds from non-Federal interests to expedite permits for rail transportation projects.

Promotion of Recreational Development Along Corps Projects

WRDA 2016 transfers Corps property along the shore of Lake Eufaula to the Department of Interior to hold in trust for use by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to facilitate access to the lake for recreational purposes from land they already own. Furthermore, WRDA 2016 continues a demonstration program to promote and enhance recreational experiences on Oklahoma Corps of Engineers lakes. The development on and around lakes provides an important boost to the economy of surrounding communities by bringing visitors and jobs and provides taxpayers that have built these lakes with an additional benefit.  WRDA 2016 also includes a provision that allows service providers to keep recreation fees they collect at Corps lakes, encouraging the development of more recreational facilities.

EPA WATER AND WASTEWATER ASSISTANCE PROVISIONS

Assistance for Small and Disadvantaged Communities

In the U.S. we still have underserved communities that lack basic services. WRDA 2016 authorizes a grant program to assist small and disadvantaged communities in complying with the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. A priority is given to underserved communities. This section authorizes a total of $1.4 billion over five years and provides $20 million right now, to get this program started.

Water Supply Cost Savings

Some community water systems are so small that hooking up to a centralized system is cost-prohibitive. WRDA 2016 establishes a drinking water technology clearinghouse to provide information on cost-effective, innovative, and alternative drinking water delivery systems, including systems that are supported by wells.

Small Treatment Works Technical Assistance

WRDA 2016 establishes a technical assistance program for small treatment works, to be carried out by qualified nonprofit technical service providers.  WRDA also includes a similar program for water systems on tribal lands.

Affordability

Under WRDA 2016, instead of being ordered to do everything at once, under this bill, communities can combine their regulatory requirements into a single plan and then prioritize their investments so that the greatest risks are addressed first.

The bill establishes an Office of Municipal Ombudsman within EPA to help communities deal with aggressive EPA enforcement officials.

WRDA 2016 defines affordability and financial capability, prohibits the use of median household income as the sole indicator of affordability for a residential household, and requires EPA to update its Financial Capability guidance.

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