Stimulus legislation includes big wins for clean water and healthy rivers

December 21, 2020 
Contact: Amy Kober, 503-708-1145 

Washington – American Rivers applauded the U.S. Congress today for including critical provisions for clean water and healthy rivers in economic stimulus legislation. The Consolidated Appropriations Act includes the Water Resources Development Act as well as key actions for western water, which are important steps toward preparing our rivers and communities for the impacts of climate change.  

“In addition to delivering some much-needed relief for families struggling during the pandemic and economic downturn, Congress advanced solutions that improve river and water management,” said Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers. 

Passing the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 allows the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make critical investments in natural flood management, including reconnecting and restoring floodplains and wetlands. Congress sent a clear message to the Army Corps that in order to improve the nation’s resilience to flooding it should not continue to rebuild damaged levees — which harm river health and can make flood damage worse — but should instead use nature-based approaches that reconnect rivers to floodplains and provide clean water and improved river health for communities. 

In the Water Resources Development Act, Congress instructed the Corps to quickly implement long-delayed rules that will better incorporate nature-based approaches and the value of ecosystems into Corps projects.  

The Water Resources Development Act includes provisions that: 

  1. Require the Corps to implement the Principles, Requirements and Guidelines for Water and Land Related Resources Implementation Studies, developed under the Obama administration. The new project planning guidelines will mean the Corps can better incorporate nature-based approaches and the value of ecosystems into projects. 
  2. Increase the adoption of nature-based approaches to reduce flood damage by setting the non-federal cost share for a project at 35 percent, ensuring the Corps considers nature-based approaches for every flood project, and allowing nature-based approaches to be implemented under the Small Flood Control Projects program. 
  3. Establish a federally funded pilot program to study the feasibility of flood risk reduction projects in economically disadvantaged communities. 
  4. Benefit the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, named America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2020, by authorizing watershed studies to identify root causes of flooding and increasing funding for restoration, science and monitoring. 

“This legislation is a major step toward improving river health and climate resilience for communities impacted by flooding. Despite several concerning provisions that will result in new investments in dams and traditional infrastructure projects, on balance this bill will make natural infrastructure and floodplain restoration more commonplace,” said Eileen Shader, director of floodplain restoration for American Rivers. “That is good news for people and wildlife.” 

The omnibus legislation also includes important provisions for improving water management in the west, including: 

  • Improving Bureau of Reclamation grant programs for water conservation and efficiency, drought response, and ecological resiliency 
  • Providing important funding for scientific advances and improved technology to assist with water supplies and planning 
  • Recognizing tribal water rights and funding projects that will provide access to clean safe drinking water and other critical water supplies: 

American Rivers’ keystone report, “Rivers as Economic Engines”, recommended Congress dedicate $500 billion over the next decade to boost federal clean water infrastructure and river restoration to strengthen communities nationwide. American Rivers urged Congress to pass a significant infrastructure package that will create jobs and revitalize the economy while improving river health. 

About American Rivers

American Rivers believes a future of clean water and healthy rivers for everyone, everywhere is essential. Since 1973, we have protected wild rivers, restored damaged rivers and conserved clean water for people and nature. With headquarters in Washington, D.C., and 300,000 supporters, members and volunteers across the country, we are the most trusted and influential river conservation organization in the United States, delivering solutions for a better future. Because life needs rivers.