December 10, 2020
Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (S. 1811)
Congress commonly titles omnibus legislation that
S. 1811 (§102) would allow for HMTF expenditures to pay
authorizes U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) civil
for a broader set of activities. The bill also would adjust or
works activities as a Water Resources Development Act
establish various percentages or minimum percentages for
(WRDA). Since WRDA 1986, Congress often has
the distribution of HMTF expenditures across different
considered a WRDA on a biennial cycle. Drivers for
categories of navigation projects (e.g., at least 13% for the
enactment typically include nonfederal and congressional
Great Lakes Navigation System). For more information on
interest in new studies and construction projects and
the HMTF, CRS In Focus IF11645, Distribution of Harbor
adjustments to existing projects, programmatic authorities,
Maintenance Trust Fund Expenditures.
and policies. S. 1811, as passed by the House on December
8, 2020, has the short title of Water Resources
For inland and intracoastal waterways, S. 1811 (§109)
Development Act of 2020 (WRDA 2020). S. 1811 draws
would adjust the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF)
many provisions from two other bills―H.R. 7575 and S.
contribution to construction projects from 50% to 35% from
3591. In July 2020, the House passed H.R. 7575. The
FY2021 through FY2031 to allow for more federal
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
investment toward these projects. The change would
reported S. 3591 in May 2020.
increase the contribution from the general fund from 50%
to 65%. For more on waterways, see CRS In Focus
Like most previously enacted WRDAs, as well as H.R.
IF11593, Inland and Intracoastal Waterways: Primer and
7575 and S. 3591, S. 1811’s provisions generally would not
Issues for Congress.
only authorize USACE studies and projects but also refine
congressional policy direction for USACE and adjust
Policy Direction
existing USACE civil works authorities. In addition to
How Congress directs USACE to plan and evaluate federal
USACE-related provisions, there are a limited number of S.
water resource investments can affect what the USACE
1811 provisions associated primarily with other agencies
Chief of Engineers recommends to Congress for
(e.g., §§507, 508, 510). S. 1811 does not include various
construction. S. 1811 (§113) would require USACE to
non-USACE provisions that are in S. 3591, including those
update the agency’s guidance on assessing sea level rise
related to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
and inland flooding to reflect the best available, peer-
reviewed science. S. 1811 (§110) would require USACE to
adopt procedures to include more consideration of
Navigation Trust Funds
environmental and social goals and regional economic
Commercial shippers and barge operators contribute toward
benefits during project planning and selection of the
paying for navigation improvements through taxes that are
preferred alternative. S. 1811 (§115) would set nonfederal
deposited into two trust funds. Monies from the trust funds
costs for natural and nature-based features at a maximum of
are made available for eligible activities through
35%. For more on these topics, see CRS In Focus IF10221,
appropriations legislation. S. 1811 would alter various
Principles, Requirements, and Guidelines (PR&G) for
aspects of the trust funds.
Federal Investments in Water Resources, and CRS Report
R46328, Flood Risk Reduction from Natural and Nature-
For coastal and inland harbors, S. 1811 (§101) would
Based Features: Army Corps of Engineers Authorities.
change budget enforcement rules through budget cap
adjustments. In the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136, §14003),
Study and Project Authorizations
Congress directed that Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund
The broad cessation of congressionally directed spending
(HMTF) monies used for activities designated as harbor
that benefits a specific entity or locality (known as
operations and maintenance in an amount up to the prior
earmarking) has altered the development of USACE
fiscal year’s HMTF deposits would not count against
authorization legislation. Enacted WRDA bills since 2014
annual discretionary budget limits. S. 1811 would alter the
have been explicit regarding their use of Administration
HMTF adjustment to be the sum of (1) the amount of the
reports and processes as the basis for including most
deposits into the fund two years prior (which were $1.8
geographically specific USACE authorizations. S. 1811
billion in FY2019) and (2) $2 billion from the HMTF’s
(§401) would authorize the construction of 46 water
balance. At the start of FY2021, the HMTF balance was
resource development projects identified in Chief of
estimated at roughly $9.2 billion. S. 1811 also would make
Engineers’ reports completed since WRDA 2018. Among
an adjustment for funding for certain additional measures at
these projects, several would have federal costs greater than
qualifying ports; the adjustment would apply for 10 years
$400 million: three coastal storm damage reduction projects
and expand from $50 million to $70 million annually.
(two in NY, one in VA), one navigation project (TX), and
one ecosystem restoration project (IL). S. 1811 (§401) also
would authorize eight modifications to construction

Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (S. 1811)
projects, and S. 1811 (§403) would conditionally authorize
appropriations process and, at times, through supplemental
six projects developed by nonfederal project sponsors.
appropriations. Numerous studies and projects authorized
for construction in previous legislation remain unfunded.
S. 1811 would authorize USACE to conduct feasibility
Nonfederal sponsors often remain interested in pursuing
studies (§201) and modify four feasibility studies (§203), as
these unfunded studies and construction activities. S. 1811
well as direct USACE to expedite other authorized studies
(§222) would require an annual report to identify authorized
(e.g., §202). S. 1811 would direct USACE to conduct five
studies and projects that USACE could carry out if funds
river basin studies―Lower Mississippi River (§213), Upper
were available. Given the demand for USACE projects, a
Mississippi River (§214), Lower Missouri River Basin
challenge for policymakers is whether, and if so how, to
(§216), Upper Missouri River (§216), and Sacramento
advance authorized studies and construction activities that
River (§209)―and a coastal resilience study for the Great
remain unfunded, or whether to deauthorize the activities.
Lakes (§211).
S. 1811 (§301) addresses the authorization of various types
Programs for Economical y Distressed and Rural
of projects in the backlog. It would
and Small Communities
Some USACE projects in disadvantaged communities and
 establish a process for the deauthorization of
rural areas have been unable to meet the economic
unconstructed projects with federal costs of at least $10
justification criteria for USACE riverine and coastal flood
risk reduction projects, and for some communities the
 deauthorize projects authorized prior to November 17,
required nonfederal contributions to the costs of USACE
1986, that had not been started or were unfunded for 10
studies and construction projects can be a barrier. S. 1811
years; and
(§118) would establish pilot programs for studying and
 require that USACE provide Congress with a post-
recommending riverine and coastal flood risk for
authorization change report that reflects updated
economically disadvantaged communities and rural
economic and environmental analyses before carrying
communities. S. 1811 (§165) would authorize a pilot
out a project that had not initiated construction in the
program that would allow USACE to conduct 10 projects
previous 20 years.
with federal costs of $10 million or less for small and
disadvantaged communities.
S. 1811 (§306) would amend various existing authorities
related to USACE study and project deauthorization
Environmental Infrastructure
processes, including repealing many of the deauthorization
Since 1992, Congress also has authorized and provided
processes enacted in 2014, 2016, and 2018.
appropriations for USACE environmental infrastructure
assistance (e.g., planning, design, and construction of
Processes for Identifying Studies and Projects
municipal drinking water and wastewater infrastructure
Adherence to earmark moratoriums has altered how
projects) in designated communities, counties, and states. S.
Congress identifies activities for inclusion in a WRDA. In
1811 (§352) would amend 14 environmental infrastructure
Section 7001 of P.L. 113-121 (33 U.S.C. §2282d),
authorities to increase authorization of appropriations and,
Congress established an annual process for identifying
for some authorities, to expand geographic scope and
proposals for USACE studies and projects that are related
authorized activities (e.g., stormwater systems).
to the agency’s missions and authorities that require
specific congressional authorization. Congress has used the
Invasive Species
annual Section 7001 reports to identify activities for
Invasive species can impact water resource projects by
authorization in WRDAs.
outcompeting native species, clogging water pipes, and
affecting water quality and recreation. S. 1811 includes
USACE’s civil works activities historically have focused on
provisions that would alter and expand invasive species
three primary purposes: improving navigation, reducing
efforts by USACE and other agencies. The bill would direct
flood risk, and restoring aquatic ecosystems. Many USACE
periodic updates to USACE’s Invasive Species Policy
projects are multipurpose—that is, they may provide water
(§501) and amend its invasive species research authority
supply storage, recreation, and hydropower, among other
(§502). The bill would authorize the Brandon Road Project,
benefits, in addition to one or more of the three primary
designed to prevent invasive species transfer between the
purposes. S. 1811 (§127) would direct the Section 7001
Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins (§401). The bill
reports to include proposals submitted for projects that have
also would authorize federal-state actions for the control or
municipal or agricultural water supply purposes and that are
eradication of invasive species in certain river basins
consistent with the agency’s mission and authorities.
(§§504, 505, 506) and invasive species pilot programs
(§§503, 505, 507, 508, 509, 510).
WRDA Implementation and Oversight
Congress establishes the broad structure for how USACE is
Backlog of Authorized Projects
to perform its water resource activities. After enactment of
USACE has an estimated $98 billion backlog of authorized
a WRDA, USACE often will develop guidance that
unconstructed water resources projects. After Congress has
describes how the agency will implement various
authorized the study or construction of a project, USACE
provisions, and Congress often engages in oversight.
generally is unable to proceed until it receives funding for
that project. Congress provides appropriations for the
Nicole T. Carter, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
agency through the annual Energy and Water Development
Anna E. Normand, Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (S. 1811)


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