Illinois moves forward with Water Resources Act

By Eleanor Black

The House of Representatives approved the Water Resources Reform and Development Act on Oct. 23, which authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out water resources development across the nation. The act includes a provision written by Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-17, and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-13.

The legislation creates 15 pilot programs along Illinois’ locks and dam system that can be financed through public-private partnerships. Bustos said the system currently requires $60 billion in needed improvements. 

“We do not, as a government, have the resources to pay for those needed improvements,” she said. “What (public-private partnership) allows then, is that we can expedite projects and save tax payer money.”

Bustos added that the act does not allow the full privatization of any federal asset, and audits activities by non-federal interests to ensure accountability and transparency on all projects. 

“I think we’ve got written into this, a way to move projects forward that looks out for the best interest of the tax payer and helps improve the economy and looks out for commerce,” she said.

Davis said the bill was crucial to Central Illinois because keeping waterways up-to-date helps get agricultural products out into the open ocean.

“Many ag-related jobs, not just the family farmers but those who sell equipment to farmers, they rely upon the farmers getting their product out and overseas,” Davis said. “We feed the world here in Central Illinois, and it’s under-appreciated.”

With agriculture being the largest industry in her district, Bustos agreed that WRRDA plays an important role in the state’s economy. She listed the Illinois Corn Growers Association, the Illinois Soybean Association, and the Illinois Farm Bureau as endorsers of the act.

“By allowing for use of public-private partnerships in waterway infrastructure projects, we can unlock the full potential of the Illinois river system and turn the Mississippi River into an agricultural export drag strip for our state,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk in a news release.

Davis added that the bill also serves an important purpose to Illinois’ coal-mining industry.

“We export a lot of coal, which means that the coal-mining jobs in the southwestern part of my district actually are dependent upon the river navigation channel being open,” he said, adding that a drought last year threatened the navigation channel and in turn, the jobs of miners. “We want to put together a long-term plan to make sure that doesn’t happen again, and that’s what WRRDA does.”

Davis said the passage of WRRDA also displayed cooperation between the two parties in the House. Under the leadership of the bill’s sponsor, Congressman Bill Schuster, R-Penn., Davis said that the bill unanimously passed out of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and went on to the floor and passed with only three “no” votes.

“This is a shining example of the bipartisanship that actually happens in Washington a lot more than what the news media outlets report,” he said. “This bill in particular is one that couldn’t be passed since 2007 because of partisan bickering.”

Bustos reiterated the importance of a bipartisan vote and her vision of the future.

“My hope going forward is that we will find more Democrats and Republicans that we can try to work together on for the greater good for our country,” she said. “It’s really the only way we’re going to be a strong United States of America if we figure out these ways that we can work together for what’s right for the people we serve.”

Eleanor can be reached at [email protected]