Innovative Projects and Creative Financing Are Favored for Selection by WIFIA

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) is a major update and reformation of prior water infrastructure legislation at the federal level.
  • Title V subtitle C of WRRDA, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014 (WIFIA), provides federal support for financing of needed infrastructure and related costs, public-private funding initiatives and other innovative credit arrangements, and federal grants to help fund pilot projects.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) is a major update and reformation of prior water infrastructure legislation at the federal level. Under WRRDA, developments such as port facilities, water supply, water treatment and storm water systems are eligible for consideration to receive federal credit assistance. Some projects may also receive grants to support innovative approaches to water management.

WRRDA streamlines the process for the Army Corps of Engineers' approval of projects in or affecting "Waters of the United States" and requires deletion of projects still entitled to funding but no longer active. By culling the list, the Corps can give new projects an opportunity for federal grants or credit assistance.

WIFIA Selection Process Favors Innovative Projects and Financing

Title V subtitle C of WRRDA, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014 (WIFIA), provides federal support for financing of needed infrastructure and related costs, such as acquisition of property for siting new projects. WIFIA provides for public-private funding initiatives and other "innovative" credit arrangements, as well as federal grants to help fund qualified projects.

Projects eligible for assistance include, but are not limited to, initiatives providing:

  • flood damage reduction
  • restoration of aquatic ecosystems
  • improvements to inland and intracoastal waterway navigation systems
  • development of wastewater treatment works
  • development of desalination plants

Pilot projects are authorized but the selection process must provide for a diversity of project types and geographical location. Activities eligible for WIFIA funding include planning, permitting, engineering, design and construction.

National or Regional Significance Is a Plus

Section 5028 of WIFIA includes extensive, detailed criteria for determining eligibility and selection of projects for financial assistance. Considerations include the extent to which the project is nationally or regionally significant with respect to the generation of economic and public benefits. "Public benefits" include reduction of flood risk, improvement of water quality, and quantity and protection of drinking water. The list of detailed selection criteria is lengthy but generally addresses such issues as support of commerce, protection against extreme weather events and assistance to regions with special water resource needs. New or innovative projects are favored as well as proposals ready to proceed without delay.

EPA and the Corps have not yet announced a schedule for development and adoption of implementing regulations. Funding by Congress is also needed before the act can be implemented. Funding to be provided for each of five upcoming fiscal years is specified as follows:

  • 2015: $20 million
  • 2016: $25 million
  • 2017: $35 million
  • 2018: $45 million
  • 2019: $50 million

Corps of Engineers Requires Annual Federal Register Notices

No later than May 1 of each year, WRRDA requires the Corps of Engineers to annually publish a notice in the Federal Register requesting proposals from non-federal interests regarding water resources development needs. The Corps will review proposed submissions for inclusion in an annual "Report to Congress on Future Water Resources Development" according to statutorily established criteria.

Upon completion of its review, the Corps will submit to Congress an annual report of those activities that meet the WIFIA criteria. The report is due by Feb. 1 of each year. In 2014, the deadline for submitting new feasibility studies, construction projects and modifications to authorized Corps projects is Dec. 3, 2014.