The U.S. waterways infrastructure – crucial to the nation’s farmers as a way to export crops and receive necessary inputs – received a major boost when President Obama signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) into law on June 10. Obama said the legislation that easily passed Congress will “put Americans to work modernizing our water infrastructure and restoring some of our most vital ecosystems."

Obama’s action was shortly followed by approval of the House Appropriations Committee’s Energy & Water Subcommittee’s 2015 appropriations bill funding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works program. The subcommittee approved nearly $5.5 billion in spending for projects the Corps will oversee.

The WRRDA was not an immediate success story. Proponents of the legislation have pushed for waterways improvements for over seven years.

Among those proponents is the Waterways Council, Inc., which counts among its members a broad coalition of interested parties. On June 12, Debra Colbert, senior vice president of the organization, spoke with Delta Farm Press about WRDDA and what the U.S. agriculture sector can expect. Among her comments:

What’s been your experience over the last few months with this legislation? Any hiccups that worried you?

“No. We were pretty confident the bill was going to move through successfully.

“Frankly, that was due to the strong, bipartisan relationship between (California) Sen. Barbara Boxer and ranking member (Louisiana) Sen. David Vitter in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Correspondingly, the same was true in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee with Chairman (Pennsylvania Rep.) Bill Shuster and ranking member (West Virginia) Rep. Nick Rahall.

“Several years ago, we presented testimony to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. A number of people were there from the port community, the president of one of Cargill’s marine units, folks from the building trades, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others. The panel spoke about the need for reauthorization that we’d waited on for seven years.

“At that hearing, Sen. Boxer said, ‘you know, as soon as we get back from our recess and elections, we’ll begin working on WRDDA and we’ll pass it. We’re going to do it collaboratively and reach across the aisle. Mark my words.’

“Vitter agreed and said reform measures were important to improve the process delivery from the Corps of Engineers.

“So, right off the bat, before there was even a first draft of Senate legislation, we knew they’d work hard to get it done. Sure enough, it sailed through in each chamber with very strong support. Following conference, WRDDA passed overwhelmingly.”