Washington, DC – Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate passed the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 as part of H.R. 133, the Omnibus Appropriations and Emergency Coronavirus Relief Bill. The bill included key provisions authored by Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA) to improve dam safety, to provide equity in resources for our ports, and to ensure proper maintenance and dredging of Ventura Harbor and Channel Islands Harbor.

“Safe and secure water infrastructure is crucial to ensuring that our country and our economy keep moving forward,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley. “In Ventura County, we know the importance of proper maintenance of our harbors and ports, which is critical for local businesses and for our way of life.

“I am pleased that the final bill included my dam safety bill, which will allow high risk dams to unlock federal resources to ensure life-threatening safety hazards are addressed. The Santa Felicia Dam in our region is a prime example of an aging asset that needs safety improvements, as failure would be catastrophic for our local communities.

“I am also pleased that the bill included language I supported to ensure that donor ports, like the Port of Hueneme, receive a fair share of resources from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. The Port of Hueneme contributes far more than it receives back. Donor port equity will ensure that the Port of Hueneme – which is a key economic driver in our region — has resources to address infrastructure needs and keep goods flowing to fuel our local and regional economy.

“Importantly, the bill also authorizes additional funds to ensure that Ventura Harbor and Channel Islands Harbor receive crucial maintenance dredging, so that businesses that rely upon our harbors can continue to operate.”

High Hazard Dams

“The Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 is an essential piece of legislation that will provide our agency with the eligibility to seek federal funding, which will offset the costs of critical public safety improvements needed for our Santa Felicia Dam, assuring our ratepayers and the residents of Ventura County of their well-being while also securing a key element in reaching regional water sustainability,” said United Water Conservation District General Manager Mauricio E. Guardado, Jr. “Ultimately, WRDA 2020 will help agencies throughout our nation with much needed resources required for upgrading and/or replacing aging infrastructure without inflicting incredible financial burdens on local communities. We are extremely grateful to Congresswoman Julia Brownley, who has always been a champion for regional water sustainability, and to all of the legislators who joined together to deliver this much needed law to the President for his signature.” 

The FEMA High Hazard Dams program was created several years ago to address dam safety issues. When the program was originally created, Congress included language prohibiting dams with hydroelectric generation capacity from eligibility. The intent at the time was to ensure the federal dollars went towards publicly owned dams, and not-for-profit hydropower facilities. However, there are a number of dams nation-wide with small hydroelectric power features, which were unintentionally excluded from eligibility, including the Santa Felicia Dam in Ventura County. Last year, Brownley introduced legislation, H.R. 5504, to ensure that dams with small hydroelectric generation capacity, 1.5 megawatts or less, are eligible for the FEMA High Hazard Dams grant program.

Dam safety is a critically important issue across our country. The failure of dams can have catastrophic and deadly consequences for communities. The 1928 catastrophic collapse of the St. Francis Dam killed at least 431 people in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. Today, there are more than 80,000 dams in the United States, many of which would pose a “high” or “significant” hazard to life and property if a failure were to occur, including the Santa Felicia Dam.

Donor Port Equity

“I applaud Congress for taking a decisive step toward giving greater parity to donor ports in HMT funding. This increased funding will bring infrastructure improvements and create jobs at the Port for years to come. Thank you to Congresswoman Brownley for her leadership in getting this over the finish line,” said Port of Hueneme CEO & Port Director Kristin Decas.

The 2020 WRDA bill also includes language, which Brownley and other California Members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee supported, to ensure that donor ports – those ports that contribute more to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund than they receive back in resources – receive a fair share of resources. Specifically, the bill includes language that allocates 12% of HMTF expenditures to donor ports. In 2016, Brownley secured passage of legislation that formally designated the Port of Hueneme and the Port of San Diego as donor ports. Since then, the Port of Hueneme has received resources on an annual basis that have been set aside for donor ports. Other California donor ports include the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach. 

Nearly 80 percent of traded goods that Americans rely on are moved through our Nation’s ports, harbors, and inland waterways. So, keeping our ports in good repair is critical for our economy and America’s global economic competitiveness.

Maintenance Dredging

The 2020 WRDA bill also included language supported by Brownley to ensure adequate funds for maintenance dredging of smaller harbors, like Channel Islands and Ventura Harbor. Specifically, the bill sets aside 15% of HMTF expenditures for smaller harbors, including for breakwater and jetty repair needs. Ventura Harbor requires annual dredging to remain navigable, and Channel Islands Harbor requires bi-annual dredging to remain navigable. These dredging projects also provide sand for beaches down coast and to address coastal erosion, including at Hueneme Beach and Naval Base Ventura County.


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