Aiming to update existing U.S waterways infrastructure and provide additional funds for future projects, on May 15 the Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) on an 83 to 14 vote. The act was backed by numerous business, labor and agriculture advocacy groups.

Companion legislation in the House -- “Waterways are Vital for the Economy, Energy, Efficiency, and Environment Act” (WAVE 4, H.R. 1149) – is yet to be taken up.

Some 60 percent of the nation’s waterways infrastructure is at least 50 years old and there is a pressing need to refurbish ports and the river transportation system.

The waterways system, “allows less congestion on the highways,” said American Farm Bureau transportation specialist Andrew Walmsley. “It allows us to move products more cost-effectively. One 15-tow barge is the equivalent of about 216 rail cars or a little over 1,000 semi trucks. So you’re talking about a huge amount of products that are not congesting roadways or railways. When you look at transporting freight by water about one gallon of diesel fuel can move a ton of cargo 616 miles. That beats out rail at 478 miles or a truck of about 150 miles.”

Further, said Walmsley, “It’s really our superhighways on water. Over 60 percent of ag products that go to export move on our inland waterways system. You have vital inputs for everyday life, whether it’s coal, fuel, feeding grains, inputs for agriculture travels on our inland waterway system.”

More from Walmsley here.

Producers will also be interested to know that the WRDA legislation also contained language to exempt farms with above-ground oil storage tanks with an aggregate capacity of less than 10,000 gallons from the EPA’s Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure rule.

According to Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, “The fuel spill rule propounded by the EPA poses an unnecessary financial and regulatory burden on farmers. The legislative corrections we’ve incorporated into the (WRDA) are reasonable from both the farm operations and environmental protection standpoint.”

In late March, prior to the Senate taking up the waterways legislation, Debra Colbert, senior vice president of the Waterways Council, explained the importance of rehabbing the system. “While it’s still reliable for shippers, if we continue funding it at the insufficient levels of the last several years that trend will quickly result in the system’s unreliability and potential catastrophic failure. Some of the issues related to the low-water crisis that threatened shipping in 2012 could be a regular occurrence.”

Read that story here.

Following the passage of the WRDA in the Senate, Colbert again spoke with Farm Press on May 21. Among her comments:

Did you get what you wanted out of the Senate legislation? Were there things left out that you were hoping would be in the bill?

“We got a fair amount of what we wanted and are certainly happy about that. The one key element we really need to see make it into the House bill would be the user fee increase. But we did get just about everything else we were pushing for in the Senate (bill).”

Why didn’t the user fee go through?

“We came to find out that any revenue enhancement measures need to originate in the House. That’s a constitutional matter. So, to keep a regular order for a bill moving through the Senate floor, according to (Senate Leader, Nevada Sen.) Harry Reid, any revenue enhancement measure needs to start in the House.

“So, they decided to make the user fee an additional amendment to the RIVER Act (Reinvesting In Vital Economic Rivers and Waterways Act of 2013,S.601). That was introduced by Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey with new co-sponsors Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts. The original co-sponsors of the RIVER Act were Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken. That measure was brought to the Senate floor by Casey just as a way, not to formally introduce it, but to express support and show that it is something that they feel should be considered in the House.”

One thing that has been played up by some Southern lawmakers is an amendment regarding an EPA fuel spill prevention that was part of the WRDA. Was that just tacked on?

“We didn’t really have anything to do with that. Most of the amendments added to the bill have some sort of relevance to water resources or water projects. But we weren’t involved in any of those.”

Some legislators also claimed that this bill could mean 500,000 jobs. Could you comment on that?

“Yes, (California) Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, works collaboratively with (Louisiana) Sen. David Vitter, ranking member. In all her statements, she said that while this is a water resources reauthorization and there are a lot of projects that will help the nation’s infrastructure, this is really a jobs bill. And she said the bill would sustain, or create, or both, of about 500,000 jobs.”