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WateReuse Association Holds Virtual Congressional Town Hall

Date: July 06, 2020

Last week, the WateReuse Association hosted a “virtual town hall” with four top congressional staff members from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. During the 90-minute event, congressional staff shared their views on a range of important topics, including infrastructure and economic stimulus legislation, technological innovation, the Water Resources Development Act, and efforts to reauthorize critical programs such as the Title XVI-WIIN Water Reclamation and Reuse Program, among others.

Here are six major takeaways from last week’s virtual town hall:

There is broad support for further, targeted action on COVID-19: Members of Congress continue to hear from constituents that there is a great deal of need for another COVID-19 relief package. Given how much money has already been spent in response to the pandemic, however, there is also a serious question about how to pay for any future legislation. Moving forward, there will be more focus on getting the most bang for the buck. We should look to programs that leverage lots of non-federal dollars.

Take a coalition approach to reauthorizing Bureau of Reclamation programs: The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2016 linked multiple components of Western water management, including water recycling, water storage and conveyance, rehabilitation, and desalination. This linkage is important moving forward because there are members of both parties and both houses of Congress that support one or multiple pieces. As a result, our chances of reauthorizing and funding Title XVI-WIIN may increase if we can build a broader Western water package, such as that authorized in S. 1932, the Drought Resilience and Water Supply Infrastructure Act, and the FUTURE Drought Resilience Act in the House.

WRDA on the move and could be vehicle for larger infrastructure investment: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee may mark up its WRDA bill as early as July 15. It would then go to the House floor sometime later in the month. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed its version of WRDA in May, and may bring that legislation to the Senate floor at some point soon. While the House WRDA bill will focus narrowly on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, there is a good possibility that the final WRDA bill will be a vehicle for provisions related to the Clean Water Act and Bureau of Reclamation. It is also quite possible that WRDA will be the primary water-related infrastructure bill out of Congress this year.

Technological innovation in foundational to water resources management: Stakeholders have made it clear to Congress that the federal government can play an important role in stimulating technological innovation. As a result, there is language to encourage innovation in H.R. 2, the major infrastructure package that the House passed last week. In the Senate, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee is also working on legislation to support innovation. The interest is bipartisan and bicameral.

New policy approaches can clear the path to greater water reuse: There was broad interest in establishing an investment tax credit for industrial water reuse, and for an alternative water sources grants program that would have nationwide applicability. These tools can support the adoption of water recycling in sectors and geographic areas where interest is growing.

Partnerships are key to effective advocacy: Partnerships are critical. The water reuse community should continue to build bridges and work across geographies and various kinds of stakeholder groups. Doing so can help show broad support and cut across party lines.

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