Obama signs $12.3 billion water projects bill

With praise for Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana and the bipartisan effort Vitter contributed to, President Barack Obama signed a national water-resources bill Tuesday that authorizes the big Morganza to the Gulf project and others in Louisiana.

In a White House signing ceremony attended by Vitter and his Democratic counterpart, Mary Landrieu, Obama gave credit to Vitter and the other bipartisan negotiators on the bill who “set aside politics — they focused on what was important for the country and what was important for their communities — and as a consequence we have a piece of legislation that’s really going to make a good difference.”

The $12.3 billion bill authorizes 34 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects across the country over the next 10 years. That puts them on the Corps’ “to-do” list, a critical step in moving ahead on the projects, but it does not appropriate any money for them, which requires a separate and more challenging legislative initiative.

The biggest Louisiana project in the bill is “Morganza to the Gulf,” a nearly 100-mile long series of levees and flood-control gates in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. That project carries an ultimate projected price of $10.3 billion, some of which will covered by the state and local governments.

“It’s not every day that Congress will come together and agree on legislation affecting Americans across the country, especially on a bill that is so beneficial to Louisiana,” Vitter said in a news release. “We made sure that the final result will provide hurricane and flood protection for Louisianians, necessary reforms to the Corps and improvements to our nation’s waterways.”

Vitter is the ranking minority member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and took part of the House-Senate negotiations that agreed on a final version of the bill, known as the Water Resources Reform and Development Act.

Other projects among the 34 that are in Louisiana, in whole or part, include work on coastal restoration, in the Barataria Basin and on the Sabine-Neches Waterway along the Texas border.

Apart from the listed project authorizations, other elements of the bill promote deepening of the Mississippi River channel and the Port of Iberia and improvements to flood and hurricane protection in Southeast Louisiana.

Projects across the nation include harbor navigation improvements in Boston, Jacksonville and Savannah, environmental restoration in the Florida Everglades and Chesapeake Bay and flood control in the Midwest.

In signing the measure, Obama said, “The fact that this bill received some bipartisan support I think hopefully sets a pattern for additional work,” referring to investments in transportation projects that he advocates.

Follow Gregory Roberts of The Advocate Washington bureau on Twitter @GregRobertsDC.