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President and Congress Approve $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill Including $20 Billion for Water

On March 23, 2018, President Trump signed HR1625, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (now Public Law 115-141, (Appropriations Act)) which will fund the federal government through September 2018. The bill was 2,232 pages in length and authorizes $1.3 trillion in spending on a wide variety of government priorities. HR1625 passed the House by a wide margin (256-167) and garnered 65 affirming votes in the Senate

Initially President Donald Trump issued a veto threat by tweet—“I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill” over concern regarding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients and funding for a border wall. The bill however was ultimately signed by the President on March 23, 2018 in order to avoid a government shutdown.

The Appropriations Actin general is a massive spending bill that includes approximately $20 billion toward infrastructure including water storage, desalinization, addressing subsidence, as well as funding the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and Wildfire Funding.

 

The Consolidated Appropriations Act

 

Water Storage and Infrastructure

With regard to water storage, the Appropriations Actincreases Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN) storage spending from $67 million to $134 million, which partially matches California’s Proposition 1 storage dollars. The Appropriations Actalso provides $20 million in funding for California water projects, $4.35 million for design and pre-construction work on the Shasta Reservoir Enlargement Project, $1.5 million to complete a feasibility study for the Temperance Flat Reservoir project and $2.2 million to begin a feasibility study to address subsidence problems concerning the Friant Kern Canal.

The Appropriations Actfurther provides for $12 million for the WIIN Desalination program, $54.4 million for water recycling, and $37 million for funding CALFED.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) operations and maintenance budget are increased under the Appropriations Actfrom $3.15 billion to $3.63 billion and the Corps’ construction budget will also increase from $1.88 billion to $2.08 billion.

 

Loans and Finance

The Appropriations Actalso increases the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF)—a loan assistance authority for water quality improvement projects throughout the United States—from $1.39 billion in fiscal year 2017 to $1.7 billion in 2018. Additionally, it increases the Drinking Water SRF, which provides financial support to water systems and to state safe water programs, from $863 million to $1.16 billion in 2018.

Further, Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) funding will increase from $30 million to $63 million in 2018. WIFIA generally include long-term, low-cost loans for significant regional and national projects, which are broad in scope and include wastewater, drinking water, stormwater and water recycling projects.

The formula for funding the fighting of wildfires also was changed to provide continuous funding to fight catastrophic wildfires. The Appropriations Actspecifically establishes a 10-year mechanism that allows agencies to pay for forest health and restoration projects to help prevent catastrophic fires, replacing a year-by-year funding mechanism.

 

Conclusion andImplications

The new spending as provided under the Consolidated Appropriations Actincreases funding in numerous areas, and reverses years of mostly austere spending at the federal level. Even the EPA—which the executive branch had initially called to be cut by up to one third—escaped without reduction and was funded with no year-over-year reductions. Funding provided by the Appropriations Actis directly, and significantly, at odds with the initial budget proposed by President’s Trump. It remains to be seen if the willingness to pass large spending bills is a new normal at the federal level or whether the budget cuts of prior years and initially sought by President Trump will reemerge in the next funding cycle. The text for HR 1625 is available online at: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-115hr1625enr/html/BILLS-115hr1625enr.htm

(David E. Cameron, Meredith Nikkel)