Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley today announced key water infrastructure and conservation investments that he secured for Oregon communities, with the support of Sen. Ron Wyden, included in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which passed unanimously out of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.
“This bill contains important provisions that will help communities in every corner of Oregon,” said Merkley, who serves on the committee. “With Sen. Wyden’s support, I worked to address the issues Oregonians have told me are important to them. From to protecting the Columbia River Basin by investing in restoration efforts, to moving forward on long-overdue tribal housing, to fighting invasive species, this bill delivers for Oregon.”
“It’s long past time for the federal government to honor its commitment to the tribal families that lost their homes and villages when the Columbia River dams were built decades ago,” Wyden said. This bill takes an important step toward making good on that promise. I will keep working to advance other efforts critical to Oregonians, including salmon habitat protection and Columbia River restoration, through the Senate and passed into law.”
Tribal Housing: Merkley fought hard to include language that requires the Army Corps to finish the Village Development Plan at The Dalles, which was on track before being derailed by the head of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney. Merkley, who has seen firsthand the unacceptable conditions at the tribal housing sites, also worked to include language in the WRDA bill that instructs the Army Corps to assess what level of assistance that should be delivered to the tribes who were displaced by the Bonneville Dam and John Day Dam sites.
Columbia River Basin Restoration: The bill includes language that authorizes $5 million in dedicated funding to Columbia River Basin restoration in 2019, and another $30 million for both 2020 and 2021. With the budget authorization, Merkley can use his seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to include the funding in the next spending bill. The funding would help improve the health of and reduce legacy toxins in the Columbia River Basin, which irrigates 6 million acres of agricultural land; carries $20 billion in cargo annually; is the largest generator of clean hydropower in North America; and has historically been the largest salmon-producing river system in the world. However, it is the only major Environmental Protection Agency-dedicated “large aquatic ecosystem” to receive no dedicated funding.
Watercraft Inspection: The bill increases funding for Army Corps watercraft inspection stations to $30 million in the Columbia River Basin, which have proven effective in preventing the spread of destructive, invasive aquatic species, such as zebra mussels and quagga mussels.
Buy America: The bill includes modified language that permanently requires Drinking Water State Revolving Fund projects to adhere to Buy America rules, which have established the basic principle that when spending federal taxpayer dollars on public infrastructure projects, American businesses and workers should do the work.
Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA): In an effort to create flexibility for tribes and small, rural communities, Merkley successfully included language that requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on improving access to WIFIA assistance, due within a year of the WRDA bill’s enactment. With over $5.5 billion available in potential loans, Merkley is working to ensure the funding gets to the communities that need it most.
Svensen Island: In support of salmon restoration efforts in a 294-acre property in Clatsop County, the bill includes deauthorization of the Svensen Island levee, which is contained on the property. The Columbia Restoration Group is collaborating with the Bonneville Power Agency to restore, enhance and preserve aquatic and natural resources and habitat, including reconnecting tidal wetland habitat. Once complete, the project will provide significant ecological benefits, including habitat for salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act.