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House, Senate negotiators detail compromise water bill worth billions

| Thursday, May 15, 2014, 9:21 p.m.

WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators on Thursday introduced a compromise bill that authorizes billions of dollars for water projects during the next decade, from flood protections in California to deepening Georgia's rapidly growing Port of Savannah.

Lawmakers released details of the Water Resources Reform and Development act a week since announcing a tentative deal on legislation that blends House and Senate versions of the bill. The legislation will authorize 34 projects in virtually every region of the country. Lawmakers say it provides important investment in the nation's water infrastructure.

“This legislation is about jobs and our country's economic prosperity, and I look forward to bringing it back to the House for a final vote,” said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who filed the bill.

The proposed investments include projects related to expansion and flood protection.

The bill sanctions more than $748 million in federal funds for dredging and widening of the Sabine-Neches Waterway, an area billed as “America's Energy Gateway” because the roughly 80-mile waterway services oil and natural gas refineries in Texas and Louisiana. The legislation authorizes as much as $800 million for a flood diversion project that would protect the Red River Valley region of North Dakota and parts of Minnesota, which have suffered major floods in four of the past five years.

The Senate passed its version of the bill roughly a year ago, with the House following suit in October. Since then, lawmakers have been working to thrash out differences between the two bills. The Senate's version would authorize about $12.5 billion during the next decade, while the House's version would cost about $8.2 billion. The compromise is expected to land somewhere in between the two, but a Congressional Budget Office estimate was not yet available.

Lawmakers have expressed a pent-up demand for a water projects bill. Congress last authorized a bill in 2007, and many lawmakers have said they feared the country's water infrastructure was suffering.

Congress would have to pass separate legislation to pay for all of the projects included in the bill.

The House is expected to vote on the bill as early as Tuesday, then the Senate. Both versions of the bill passed easily, previously. With the estimated cost of the bill expected to rise, though, there is some concern that more conservative Republicans might vote against it. Outside groups, including Heritage Action, have said the bill does not do enough to rein in spending.

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