WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, praised the final passage of S. 612, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which passed with a strong bipartisan vote of 78-21 and includes a number of provisions integral to Oklahoma.
“I am pleased that the WIIN Act has crossed the finish line with strong, bipartisan support,” Inhofe said. “This bill – soon to be law – fulfills many important Oklahoma priorities. It helps Oklahoma rural electric cooperatives and the families they serve by returning the regulation of coal combustion residuals to states and stopping the Corps from charging fees to cross Corps land.
The WIIN bill addresses Army Corps projects in Oklahoma by letting the Port of Catoosa and the Port of Muskogee provide services and funds to keep their ports and locks operational, by preventing deauthorization of the project to deepen the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, and by directing the Corps to find solutions for the Tulsa and West Tulsa Levee System.
The bill also addresses recreation at Corps lakes in Oklahoma, continuing a program to encourage recreation opportunities, and transferring easements at Grand Lake to the state. WIIN also addresses the Oklahoma, Chickasaw, and Choctaw water agreement and creates opportunities to increase water supplies at Corps reservoirs.
“Another integral aspect of this bill is the assistance it provides to disadvantaged and rural communities in Oklahoma by helping these communities comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. I am proud of the bipartisan efforts that got this bill across the finish line and I look forward to seeing the benefits to Oklahoma in action.”
“I commend the efforts of Sen. Inhofe for putting forth a bipartisan WRDA bill and keeping the commitment of passing a bill every two years,” said Julie Cunningham, Interim Executive Director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. “It is encouraging to see such a comprehensive package of water supply, navigation and other water infrastructure improvements that are vital to our nation’s security and economic growth. I am especially appreciative of the inclusion of Oklahoma’s Indian water rights settlement in this bill. Passage of this agreement is imperative to finalizing this historic, collaborative agreement which provides certainty in the management of Oklahoma’s water resources while reasonably providing for all future water needs.”
Oklahoma Provisions Included in WIIN:
ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEER PROVISIONS
Oklahoma, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Water Agreement
On Aug. 11, the state of Oklahoma, city of Oklahoma City, and the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations reached a settlement to end a water rights and tribal sovereignty dispute stemming back to the 19th century. The settlement acknowledges tribal sovereignty and meets the tribes’ conservation guidelines for an area that spans over approximately 22 counties in south-central and southeastern Oklahoma while the state of Oklahoma would continue to manage the state’s natural water supply. The deal also guarantees Oklahoma City’s long-term access to Southeast Oklahoma as a drinking water source and sets lake limits at levels that meet tribes’ recreational, cultural and water use claims. A provision in WIIN provides for the Congressional approval required for the settlement since it involves the Department of Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers.
“I’m glad the Senate passed this legislation and appreciate Senator Inhofe’s efforts to get this matter taken up so quickly. Having a sufficient, reliable supply of water is essential for life, economic development, manufacturing, recreational activities, and important industry sectors like energy and agriculture to name a few. Under the agreement, the state will continue to exercise its authority to manage and protect water resources in Oklahoma. This way, existing uses of water remain secure, and it provides certainty for future development. And the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations will have a voice in specific proceedings addressing water resources within their treaty territories,” said Governor Mary Fallin
“Oklahomans should be proud of the efforts of all parties involved in forging this historic water settlement. My office was privileged to work with the Governor, Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations and the City of Oklahoma City and their excellent legal teams to reach an agreement that is of profound benefit to all Oklahomans. I commend Senator Inhofe for his leadership and swift action in getting the agreement in front of Congress. This final step will provide certainty for the management and use of water resources in our state,” said Oklahoma Attorney Gen. Scott Pruitt.
“We appreciate the quick action taken by Senator Inhofe to secure Senate approval of the historic water rights agreement between the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations, the State of Oklahoma and the City of Oklahoma City. His diligent effort on this issue underscores his commitment to serve all Oklahomans. We look forward to working with the House to finalize passage of this historic act this year,” said Bill Anoatubby, governor, the Chickasaw Nation.
“We have confidence the water agreement is a good compromise that protects our natural resources in Southeast Oklahoma while addressing the needs of people living in Oklahoma City,” said Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation.
“Oklahoma City’s growth will be propelled by our ability to manage our water and land use. This agreement ensures we have access to water through a clearly defined and orderly process for decades ahead. We are pleased to be part of this agreement and the opportunities it creates for even greater collaboration in the future,” said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.
Tulsa and West Tulsa Levee System
WIIN authorizes the Corps to develop a plan for modifying the Tulsa and West Tulsa Levee System. The Corps must provide recommendations for modifying the original levee system to address deficiencies identified in the recent levee risk assessment. The bill also requires expedited budget consideration for any parts of the system that are classified as a Class I or Class II (i.e. very high risk) under the Levee Safety Action Classification tool developed by the Corps.
“Tulsa’s levee system protects more than 10,000 citizens and some $2 billion dollars of infrastructure including two refineries. The Corps of Engineers has determined that our levees are no longer viable. With help from this WIIN resolution we can begin the process of rehabilitating this aging levee system. A levee failure could have catastrophic environmental and economic impacts for the region. I am grateful to Senator Inhofe and his staff for their help in addressing this critical issue,” said Karen Keith, Tulsa County Commissioner, District 2.
Providing Better Protection After a Flooding Disaster
WIIN gives the Corps authority to increase the level of protection when rebuilding a levee after a disaster if the Corps determines it is in the public interest, including consideration of whether the same levee has had to be rebuilt multiple times and whether there is an opportunity to reduce risk of loss of life and property.
WIIN gives the Corps authority to establish partnerships with local entities to ensure safe, functional operation of projects along the waterway. These partnerships allow the Corps to accept and use funds, materials and services donated by non-federal interests to help address the backlog of maintenance at Corps projects. WIIN also makes sure the project to deepen the MKARNS to support increased commerce will not be deauthorized while it is waiting for funding from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
“WIIN will help non-federal public and private entities to assist the Army Corps of Engineers repair and maintain projects on a timely basis. This will help ensure the viability and sustainability of our Nation’s Inland Waterway System of which the MKARNS is an integral part! Special thanks are due to our Oklahoma Senior Senator Jim Inhofe, Chairman of EPW, and his committee colleagues, for this invaluable legislation,” said Bob Portiss, port director for the Tulsa Port of Catoosa.
Grand River Dam Authority
WIIN conveys the Army Corps of Engineers easements on Grand Lake to GRDA. Due to multiple authorities overseeing the shoreline of Grand Lake, confusion over the maintenance of easements has led to encroachments. This provision will provide certainty and efficiency for landowners and GRDA when it comes to these easements.
“I think I speak for all Grand Lake residents and businesses in offering our warmest appreciation to Senator Inhofe for resolving this issue. He and his staff have worked diligently over the past couple years to find a reasonable solution to what was becoming an unacceptable situation around the lake. Giving homeowners and businesses the ability to repair retaining walls, which are critical to maintaining the integrity of the Grand Lake shoreline, promotes future growth and economic development around the lake. At the same time, this transfer will ensure the easements are managed to promote the flood control mission of the Corps of Engineers,” said Dan Sullivan, CEO of the Grand River Dam Authority.
Oklahoma Electric Coops
Electric cooperatives in Oklahoma have been trying to renew easement agreements with the Corps for their lines that cross Corps property. Unlike prior easement agreements, the Corps is now charging upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars to renew these easements. In WIIN, easement fees will be waived for rural electric co-ops, allowing these non-profits to continue operating without costly fees, the need for new infrastructure, and without raising rates on their customers.
“Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives are grateful for Senator Inhofe’s leadership in the passage of the water resources bill. By providing relief from costly easement renewal fees on Corps property, WIIN ensures electric cooperatives can continue to provide safe, affordable and reliable electricity to member-owners,” said Chris Myers, general manager, Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives.
Leveraging Federal Assets to Increase Water Supply
WIIN gives the Corps authority to review proposals made by non-Federal interests to increase water supplies at reservoirs by increasing storage capacity, modifying project management, or accessing water that has been released. Any changes must be carried out under existing authorities and funded by the non-Federal interests, using no federal dollars.
Support for Reducing Chlorides in the Red River
Senator Inhofe has been a champion for reducing excessive chlorides in the Red River. WIIN contains several provisions to address this issue, including authorizing the Corps to facilitate transfer of desalination technologies from other countries with academic and institutional knowledge to reduce chlorides.
WIIN also clarifies the WIFIA program established by Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 to make sure chloride control is eligible for low cost loans from this program and that funds already expended on reducing chlorides in the Red River count towards the calculation of project costs.
WIIN also establishes a program to provide technical assistance for the development of innovative technologies to address water supply issues, including chloride control, and reauthorizes the Water Desalination Act of 1996.
Expediting Permit Reviews
WIIN expands the current authority for the Corps to accept funds from non-Federal interests to expedite permits for rail transportation projects.
Promotion of Recreational Development Along Corps Projects
WIIN transfers Corps property along the shore of Lake Eufaula to the Department of Interior to hold in trust for use by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to facilitate access to the lake for recreational purposes from land they already own. Furthermore, WIIN continues a demonstration program to promote and enhance recreational experiences on Oklahoma Corps of Engineers lakes. The development on and around lakes provides an important boost to the economy of surrounding communities by bringing visitors and jobs and provides taxpayers that have built these lakes with an additional benefit. WIIN also includes a provision that allows service providers to keep recreation fees they collect at Corps lakes, encouraging the development of more recreational facilities.
EPA WATER ASSISTANCE PROVISIONS
Assistance for Small and Disadvantaged Communities
In the U.S. we still have underserved communities that lack basic services. WIIN authorizes a grant program to assist small and disadvantaged communities in complying with the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. A priority is given to underserved communities. This section authorizes a total of $300 million over five years.
Water Supply Cost Savings
Some community water systems are so small that hooking up to a centralized system is cost-prohibitive. WIIN establishes a drinking water technology clearinghouse to provide information on cost-effective, innovative, and alternative drinking water delivery systems, including systems that are supported by wells.
Small Treatment Works Technical Assistance
WIIN reauthorizes technical assistance for small drinking water systems. WIIN also authorizes a similar program for drinking water systems on tribal lands.
COAL ASH PROVISION
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule on Dec. 19, 2014, to regulate the management and disposal of coal combustion residuals from utilities as a nonhazardous waste under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Because of the limited authority under RCRA Subtitle D, the requirements of the EPA rule apply directly to facilities and are enforceable only by citizen suits, not through state or federal permit programs. This legislation amends RCRA to authorize State permit programs, subject to EPA approval and oversight, to regulate coal combustion residual units based on the technical standards in EPA’s rule or state-specific standards that are at least as protective as those in the EPA rule.
“Public Service Company of Oklahoma and American Electric Power strongly support the water resources bill, and appreciate Senator Inhofe’s strong leadership in its passage. In particular, we applaud the Senator’s efforts on a provision in the WIIN bill that solves the major shortcomings of current federal regulation of coal combustion residuals (CCRs), by giving states the primary authority over CCRs through state permit programs,” said Stuart Solomon, president and COO of the Public Service Company of Oklahoma.
“EEI thanks Senator Inhofe for his leadership in completing the water resources bill, which contains critically important provisions for the safe management of coal ash. As the EPA’s coal ash regulation goes into effect and our industry begins to close coal ash basins, these legislative provisions will enable states to be more involved in the permitting process for the closure of basins. Permanently closing basins in a manner that puts safety first, protects the environment, and minimizes impacts to communities and customers is vitally important to our industry,” said Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute.
“America’s electric co-ops are extremely grateful to Chairman Inhofe for championing the WIIN Act, which will bolster co-ops’ efforts to provide affordable and reliable electricity to rural America. Because of his hard work, this bill promotes critical infrastructure projects pertaining to hydropower, flood control, water supply and emergency management. This bill is a win for America’s rural electric consumers, and we appreciate the chairman’s unwavering support for provisions that inject greatly needed certainty into the regulation of coal ash by giving states clear permitting authority and reducing litigation,” said Jim Matheson, CEO of NRECA.
“OG&E greatly appreciates Senator Inhofe’s leadership in including his coal ash provision in the ‘Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act’ conference report. His provision resolves a legislative stalemate to the satisfaction of both the electric industry and environmentalist community. The Inhofe provision brings legal certainty and predictability to the generation of electricity that will benefit Oklahoma electric customers, beneficial users of coal ash and the environment,” said Paul Renfrow, vice president of public affairs for OG&E Energy Corp.