Legislation ensuring a future water source passed the U.S. House of Representatives July 29.
The Water Resource Development Act of 2020 (WRDA) authorizing Ouachita and Black Rivers Navigation Project as a key water supply now heads to the Senate, upon completion of a feasibility study.
The Ouachita and Black Rivers Navigation Project is a 337-mile waterway from Camden to Jonesville where it converges with Tensas and Little rivers to form Black River. The stretch of river currently boasts four locks and dams and is fully navigable.
Currently, Ouachita River plays a vital role for farmers in providing water and transportation for crops. If passed, the act will ensure the continuation of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assistance in maintaining the rivers as a source of water supply.
It is estimated up to 150 communities and dozens of industries are located in the river system, according to a Ouachita River Valley Association (ORVA) study.
“WRDA is the process by which the US Army Corps of Engineers civil works projects are authorized for navigation, flood control, ecosystem and much more,” said David Weeks, executive director of ORVA. “The WRDA also institutes policy changes for Corps oversight of civil works facilities and infrastructure.”
WRDA is biennial legislation that authorizes the construction of projects and sets policies for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to support water infrastructure throughout the country, including ports, harbors, navigable rivers and flood control projects.
Congressman Ralph Abraham lobbied for the passage.
“The Ouachita and Black Rivers Navigation Project is huge for providing commerce and jobs, flood control, and water to the people of north Louisiana,” Abraham said. “This provision is a good first step to officially recognizing water supply as vital to the project. The livelihood and well-being of millions of Louisianans is directly tied to our water resources and this is a major step toward preserving and maintaining them for future generations.”
Abraham also recognized Ouachita River Valley Association for their key role in pushing the act forward.
“I’d like to thank the ORVA for its hard work and help on this issue, as well as U.S. Representatives Sam Graves and Bruce Westerman for supporting its inclusion in WRDA,” Abraham said.
In their addresses to Congressional delegates, ORVA served two key points. Ouachita Black Rivers Navigation Project should include water supply as an authorized purpose, and modification of the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MRT) Project to include the portion of the Ouachita River Levee System at and below Monroe to Caldwell / Franklin parishes.
“Although we are hesitant to declare victory, we greatly anticipate the passing of this important legislation,” Weeks said. “The Association also supports
economic development projects throughout the Basin. Our objectives include the full myriad of benefits that could be derived from water and water resources development throughout the entire Ouachita River Basin.”
Additionally, renegotiating the agreements with US Army Corps of Engineers could help the state to commit savings to build flood protection and coastal restoration priorities.
Some estimates indicate renegotiation could result in cost savings and investment worth $1 billion, according to Congressman Garret Graves, who represents the 6th District of Louisiana.