U.S. Senate passes bill that includes measures for dam safety, invasive species control

Senate

A bill passed by the Senate contains measures that helps protect hydroelectric power infrastructure from invasive aquatic species and federal funding to rehabilitate high-hazard dams.

Included in the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 -- officially Senate Bill 2848 -- is an authorization for up to $20 million to match state spending on watercraft inspection stations, alongside amendments to the National Dam Safety Program Act and grant money for infrastructure maintenance and improvements.

Per Section 3004, the Water Resources Development Act "is amended to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to establish a program to provide technical, planning, design and construction assistance grants to nonfederal sponsors (subject to a nonfederal cost-sharing requirement of at least 35%) for rehabilitation of eligible high-hazard potential dams."

As defined in the WRDA, "high-hazard" nonfederal dams includes those that are located in states with their own dam safety program; are classified as "high-hazard" by the state in which they are located; have an emergency action plan approved by an applicable state agency; and fail to meet minimum state dam safety standards, thus posing an "unacceptable risk" to the public.

Notable in Section 3004 are stipulations that grant money may not be used to perform rehabilitation work on federally-owned dams; to perform routine maintenance and operation; to modify dams to produce hydroelectric power; or to increase the storage capacities of reservoirs.

The WRDA also includes a number of measures designed to help contain invasive species like quagga and zebra mussels that have pose a significant threat to both powered and non-powered dam infrastructure.

Specifically, the bill expands existing protective measures for the Pacific Northwest's Columbia River Basin by providing federal funding for watercraft inspection stations outside of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

The legislation also directs state agencies to prioritize programs that would prevent and control invasive species within the Great Lakes, Lake Tahoe Basin and Tillamook Bay estuaries.

The Water Resources Act of 2016 was introduced to the Senate by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., in April. The bill passed the Senate with a 95-3 vote in favor September 15 and is now awaiting consideration by the House.

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