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Ernst Addresses Rural Infrastructure Challenges in Bipartisan Water Resources Bill

WASHINGTON –  Today, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, praised the Committee’s passage of the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, which included a provision directing the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite completion of the Cedar Rapids flood control project.

“For too long, rural infrastructure projects have taken a back seat to urban and coastal ones,” said Senator Ernst. “Streamlining permitting processes and reforming the rigid and flawed benefit-to-cost ratio guidelines will give projects in Iowa and other rural states a better chance to receive the critical funding they deserve.”

This bipartisan legislation authorizes, and makes important improvements to, the Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works program, which is responsible for flood control, navigation, and other activities related to water resources and infrastructure.

In developing this legislation, Senator Ernst focused her efforts on policies that will make Corps projects in Iowa more likely to receive federal funding, and that will allow communities to more readily address their flood control needs.       

Reforming the Flawed Benefit-to-Cost Ratio (BCR):

The Iowa Senator has been a vocal critic of the current BCR metrics, which disadvantage projects in states with low property values when they compete against projects in major cities or coastal areas for federal funding.

Ernst worked with her colleagues on the Committee to develop a process designed to give small and rural communities better access to funding for Corps projects. Under the new process created by this legislation, the Corps will provide funding allocations to each Corps district based on stakeholder input, the local and regional significance of projects, and other criteria. Once this funding is allocated to the district level, only projects within that district can compete for it, and BCR guidelines will not apply.

An additional provision in the bill requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on potential reforms to the current BCR metrics.

Prioritizing Cedar Rapids Flood Control Project:

Senator Ernst also included language in the bill that directs the Corps to expedite completion of the Cedar Rapids flood control project, which despite being authorized in 2014, has yet to receive federal funding due to its low BCR.

Streamlining Permitting Processes:

In an effort to speed up the construction of improvements to local flood projects, Senator Ernst’s provision clarifying that decisions to approve such proposals can be made at the district level was included in the legislation. Asserting that Corps districts, rather than Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., have the authority to approve these projects will help communities address their needs in a more timely fashion.