After a delay caused by the government shutdown and debt limit debate, the U.S. House this week will take up H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform Development Act, commonly known by the acronym WRRDA. The bill goes before the Rules committee this afternoon, and should be considered tomorrow by the full House.
Getting this bill passed is important to Georgians for two reasons. The biggest is that it would clear the way for the deepening of the Port of Savannah. Originally proposed back in 1996, the project has grown more urgent, since larger “Panamax” ships are expected to begin delivering cargo in 2015 following the widening of the Panama Canal. Without the river being deepened, these larger ships would have to bypass Georgia.
The project has been held up by Congress putting a $459 million limit on its cost. Due to the delay in starting the project and the cost of environmental and other studies, the project is now estimated to cost $662 million. Passing the bill would lift the 1999 cap, although it wouldn’t guarantee federal funding. In the meantime, Georgia has set aside $231 million for it’s share of the cost, and Governor Deal indicated the state will begin work on the port using its money should the bill pass.
The bill is also important for what it means for Lake Lanier, which supplies much of metro Atlanta’s water. As the bill was being developed, Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida attempted to add language that would require congressional approval before the Army Corps of Engineers could change the amount of water flowing down the Chattahoochee. Due to the efforts of Georgia’s congressmen (and Senators when similar restrictions were proposed in the Senate version), the proposal was removed.
Once the bill passes the House, it will go to a conference committee to reconcile it with the Senate version, which passed back in May. With any luck, the final version of the bill should be signed by the President before the end of the year.