Water Resources Development Act of 1976
by Dee Buckley
Between 1938 and 1974, the Flood Control Act and the River and Harbor Acts addressed civil works projects within the United States. Congress enacted the first Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in 1974 to combine these separate types of projects. Subsequent WRDAs have typically passed during even-numbered years. These WRDAs are cumulative without replacing the provision of previous acts, although they may amend those acts. As of March 31, 2010, the last version of this act was WRDA 2007.
Congress approved WRDA 1976, or Public Law 94-587, on October 22, 1976. This act authorized the Army Corps of Engineers, or the Corps, to undertake Phase I design of approved water resources development and improvement projects. These projects were additions, or amendments, to civil works projects defined in previous acts.
Role of Army Corps of Engineers
The Army of Corps of Engineers undertakes a vast proportion of the public-engineering and infrastructure projects in the U.S.. Congress first approves these civil works projects under the WRDA Omnibus Legislation before it appropriates funds to the Corps. The Corps then conducts studies of the water issues, design and construction of new projects, and modifications to previous projects.
WRDA 1976 instructed the Corps to apply one or more standard engineering solutions to water resources or damage-control problems to each of the listed areas. These solutions included beach erosion control, navigation improvements, storm protection, flood protection, flood control, abatement of acid mine drainage, natural salt pollution control, and construction and installation of powerhouses. The act listed specific river basins, coastal regions and commonwealths.
WRDA 1976 also provided a clause for the Corps to maintain the safety of all public waterways. In Section 202, the act stated that navigational safety hazards in harbors and waterways must be removed. It authorized the Corps to develop necessary measures for the removal of drift and debris without seeking congressional approval, provided that the total Federal cost remained under $400,000. The Federal proportion of these projects was two thirds; the states and municipalities had to bear the rest of the costs.
Within each of these basins or regions, the specific area, action, and estimated costs were named. For instance, in the Susquehanna River Basin, the act called for flood control in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania at an estimated cost of $450,000. An example of a modification to a previous project is the flood control project for the San Antonio Channel in Texas, as authorized by section 203 of the Flood Control Act of 1954. WRDA 1976 required the Corps to build additional flood control measures deemed necessary to protect the Espada Aceqia Aqueduct.