The Senate passed the conference report with a 91-7 vote of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) Thursday, May 22. Several agricultural groups issued statements in support of the legislation’s passage. The bill awaits President Obama’s signature.

The American Soybean Association welcomed the passage of WRRDA. The report, which passed the House overwhelmingly earlier in the week, contains several of ASA’s key policy priorities.

“The Senate’s passage of the WRRDA conference report represents another important step toward improving and creating a more workable framework for increased investment in our waterways infrastructure. Soybean growers need a reliable and efficient waterways system to get our product to market and meet a growing global demand,” said ASA President and Iowa farmer Ray Gaesser. “Our waterways system helps take our soybeans from major growing regions to domestic processors and major exporting terminals, then on to valuable trading partners around the world, and is a big part of why soybeans lead the nation in agricultural exports. For too long we have ignored our infrastructure and this WRRDA is a strong step in the right direction.”

Included in the conference report are ASA-supported provisions that will free up significant funding within the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for additional waterways infrastructure projects; increase the level of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund dollars that will be spent on port maintenance and dredging; streamline the Army Corps of Engineers’ project review process; increase Corps flexibility to maintain navigation during low water events; and promote the use of alternative financing and public-private partnerships to fund waterways infrastructure.

“Soybean farmers appreciate the work of Chairwoman Boxer and Ranking Member Vitter in helping to craft and pass legislation that will give our waterways infrastructure network the attention it needs,” added Gaesser. “We will continue to work with Congress and the Administration to implement the changes and improvements made in the WRRDA and seek the additional funding that will be needed to upgrade our infrastructure.”

Bob Stallman, president, American Farm Bureau Federation, issued the following statement regarding WRRDA’s Senate approval.

“Senate passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act puts America’s inland waterways and port infrastructure on a solid and sustainable foundation to contribute to U.S. economic growth, jobs and global competitiveness for generations to come.

“The American Farm Bureau Federation and our 6 million member families have long championed an efficient and reliable inland waterway system linked to competitive ports. We’re pleased that Congress recognizes that the ports, channels, locks, dams and other infrastructure that support our waterways transportation are vital to America’s ability to provide affordable agricultural products at home and abroad.

“We urge President Obama to swiftly sign this important bill into law.”

Other organizations supportive of the Senate's passage of WRRDA is the National Wheat Growers Association and the National Corn Growers Association.

“NAWG is pleased with the passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014,” said NAWG President Paul Penner, a wheat farmer from Hillsboro, Kan., “The near unanimous support the bill received in both the House and Senate signals how vital our inland waterways system is; both to America’s wheat farmers, who export nearly half the wheat that is grown domestically, and to our nation’s economy as a whole.” WRRDA seeks to increase funding for waterway development projects, such as deepening waterways and lock and dam repairs and upgrades. The bill is especially important to America’s wheat farmers, who rely onmany inland waterways to ship their wheat to port before being exported abroad."

The National Corn Growers Association specifically thanked the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, notably Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member David Vitter (R-Okla.), for bringing this negotiated bill to the floor of the Senate and for working to ensure its passage.

“Today, our representatives in the Senate took a concrete step toward repairing and improving our inland waterways through a vote that again showed overwhelming bipartisan approval for WRRDA,” said NCGA President Martin Barbre. “We must improve our infrastructure, and we must do it now. Our locks and dams transport our cargoes today but were built in the 1920s and 1930s to accommodate far smaller loads and far less river traffic. For farmers in particular, it is crucial as more than 60 percent of the nation’s grain exports are transported by barge. The need is urgent; U.S. farmers and businesses rely upon this transportation channel to create economic opportunities at home and supply markets abroad.”

NCGA also hopes Congress will soon address a proposed increase to the diesel fuel user fee which would provide additional revenue to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. By increasing this tax between six and nine cents per gallon of fuel, the industries using the waterways would be able to provide needed funds for the improvement and maintenance of the infrastructure on which they rely. 

For additional information on the content of the bill, click here.