A Guide to the Water Resources Development Act Requirements, Process, and Compliance

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) is a critical piece of legislation that shapes the nation's water infrastructure projects and environmental management efforts. This comprehensive guide delves into the key components of the WRDA, offering a detailed exploration of its regulatory scope, compliance requirements, and historical context. By examining the Act's jurisdiction, prohibited activities, and enforcement mechanisms, readers will gain a thorough understanding of how the WRDA protects vital water resources and ecosystems. The guide also highlights the importance of monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping obligations in ensuring transparency and adherence to the Act's standards. With insights into the WRDA's legislative history and potential future changes, as well as a curated list of additional resources, this guide serves as an essential tool for navigating the complex landscape of water resources development and regulation in the United States.


Key Details of the Water Resources Development a Act

Issuing Agency: United States Army Corps of Engineers
Year Established: 1974
Last Amended: 2022
Statutory Authority: Water Resources Development Act
Primary Legal Reference: Title 33 of the United States Code

What is the Water Resources Development Act?

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) is a comprehensive piece of legislation that authorizes water resources projects and policies for the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The WRDA operates within the broader regulatory framework of water resources management in the United States, which includes various federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The primary environmental issues and goals addressed by the WRDA include flood control, navigation, water supply, hydroelectric power, recreation, and environmental protection and restoration. The USACE is the primary agency involved in the administration and enforcement of the WRDA, working in collaboration with other federal, state, and local agencies.

The WRDA was first enacted in 1974 and has been amended numerous times since then, with the most recent amendment occurring in 2022. The act's general approach is to authorize and fund specific water resources projects and studies, as well as to establish policies and guidelines for the USACE's operations.

The WRDA's jurisdictional scope is limited to projects and activities undertaken by the USACE, which are typically focused on navigable waters and related infrastructure within the United States.

What does the Water Resources Development Act protect?

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) protects a wide range of environmental resources, including:

  1. Water quality: The WRDA authorizes projects and policies aimed at improving and maintaining water quality in navigable waters, such as wetland restoration, stormwater management, and erosion control.
  2. Aquatic ecosystems: The act supports the protection and restoration of aquatic ecosystems, including wetlands, estuaries, and coastal areas, by authorizing projects that enhance habitat, improve water quality, and restore natural hydrologic functions.[^2]
  3. Flood control: The WRDA authorizes flood control projects, such as levees, dams, and floodwalls, to protect communities and infrastructure from the damaging effects of floods.[^3]
  4. Navigation: The act supports the maintenance and improvement of navigable waterways, such as ports, harbors, and inland waterways, to ensure safe and efficient water transportation.[^4]
  5. Water supply: The WRDA authorizes projects that enhance water supply, such as reservoir construction and groundwater recharge, to ensure adequate water resources for municipal, industrial, and agricultural use.[^5]

[^2]: "Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration." U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Environmental/Aquatic-Ecosystem-Restoration/. [^3]: "Flood Risk Management." U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Flood-Risk-Management/ [^4]: "Navigation." U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Navigation/. [^5]: "Water Supply." U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Water-Supply/.


Section 101 - Project Authorization

Section 101 of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) is a critical component of the legislation, as it authorizes specific water resources development projects to be carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)1. The main purpose of this section is to provide congressional approval and funding for projects related to navigation, flood control, ecosystem restoration, and other water resources infrastructure.

Key requirements and implications of Section 101 include:

  • Projects must be authorized by Congress before the USACE can begin construction or implementation2.
  • Authorized projects are subject to feasibility studies, environmental reviews, and other planning processes to ensure they are technically sound, economically justified, and environmentally acceptable3.
  • Stakeholders involved in projects that require USACE involvement or approval must closely monitor Section 101 authorizations and work with the agency to ensure compliance with project-specific requirements and conditions.

Compliance strategies and best practices for Section 101 may involve:

  • Engaging with the USACE early in the for project planning process to understand potential authorization requirements and timelines.
  • Participating in public comment periods and stakeholder meetings related to proposed projects and feasibility studies4.
  • Developing robust project justification and environmental documentation to support the authorization process.

Potential challenges associated with Section 101 compliance could include navigating complex authorization processes, securing necessary funding and approvals, and addressing public or agency concerns about project impacts.


Regulatory Standards & Limitations

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) and its implementing regulations establish various standards and limitations to protect and manage water resources. These standards include:

  1. Water Quality Standards[^200]: WRDA requires states to develop and implement water quality standards for all navigable waters within their boundaries. These standards define the desired condition of a water body and the means by which that condition will be protected or achieved.
  2. Effluent Limitations[^201]: WRDA authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish effluent limitations for point sources of pollution, such as industrial facilities and wastewater treatment plants. These limitations specify the maximum amount of a pollutant that can be discharged into a water body.
  3. Dredge and Fill Material Standards[^202]: WRDA regulates the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands. The Army Corps of Engineers and EPA have developed guidelines for evaluating the environmental impacts of such activities and determining whether to issue permits.

These standards are implemented through various programs and enforced by the relevant agencies, such as the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, through monitoring, inspections, and enforcement actions[^203].

Monitoring, Reporting & Recordkeeping Obligations

Under WRDA, regulated entities are subject to various monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements to ensure compliance and transparency. These obligations may include:

  1. Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs)[^204]: Facilities with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits must submit regular DMRs to the permitting agency, detailing the quantity and quality of their effluent discharges.
  2. Stormwater Management Plans[^205]: Certain industrial facilities and construction sites must develop and implement stormwater management plans to minimize pollutant discharges. These plans must be updated and made available to the permitting agency upon request.
  3. Wetland Delineation Reports[^206]: Entities proposing to discharge dredged or fill material into potential wetlands must conduct a wetland delineation and submit a report to the Army Corps of Engineers for review and approval.

Enforcement Actions & Penalties

The relevant agencies, such as the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, monitor compliance with WRDA through various inspection and audit procedures[^208]. These may include:

Type of InspectionFrequencyScope
Routine InspectionsRegularly scheduledComprehensive review of facility operations and records
Targeted InspectionsAs needed, based on compliance history or other factorsFocused on specific areas of concern
Complaint-Driven InspectionsIn response to citizen complaints or referrals from other agenciesInvestigate specific allegations of noncompliance

Violations of WRDA can result in various penalties, depending on the nature and severity of the violation[^210]:

Type of PenaltyExamples of ViolationsFactors Influencing Severity
Administrative PenaltiesMinor reporting or recordkeeping violationsGood faith efforts to comply, cooperation with authorities
Civil FinesUnauthorized discharges, failure to obtain required permitsMagnitude and duration of violation, environmental harm caused
Criminal ChargesKnowing or willful violations, false statements or tampering with monitoring equipmentIntent, history of repeated violations

Compliance Assistance & Regulatory Incentives

Several programs and resources are available to help entities understand and comply with WRDA:

  1. EPA's Office of Water provides technical assistance, guidance documents, and online resources to help regulated entities navigate the complex regulatory landscape[^211]. For example, the agency offers a "Water Quality Standards Academy" that provides training on developing and implementing water standards[^212].
  2. Industry groups, such as the Water Environment Federation, offer workshops, webinars, and conferences to educate professionals on compliance best practices and emerging technologies[^213].
  3. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund provides low-interest loans to help communities finance water quality improvement projects, such as upgrading wastewater treatment plants or implementing green infrastructure

[^200]: 33 U.S.C. § 1313 - Water Quality Standards and Implementation Plans [^201]: 33 U.S.C. § 1311 - Effluent Limitations [^202]: 33 U.S.C. § 1344 - Permits for Dredged or Fill Material [^203]: "Water Resources Development Act." National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, https://coast.noaa.gov/czm/act/ [^204]: 40 C.F.R. § 122.41 - Conditions Applicable to All Permits [^205]: 40 C.F.R. § 122.26 - Storm Water Discharges [^206]: "Wetland Delineation Manual." U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Regulatory-Program-and-Permits/reg_supp/ [^208]: "Compliance Monitoring." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. [^210]: "Enforcement Actions." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. [^211]: "Water Resources." U.S. Environmental Protection Police, https://www.epa.gov/environmental-topics/water-topics [^212]: "Water Quality Standards Academy." U.S. Environmental Agency, https://www.epa.gov/wqs-tech/water-quality-standards-academy [^213]: "Education & Training." Water Environment Federation.


Regulatory History & Upcoming Changes

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) is a comprehensive piece of legislation that authorizes various water resources projects and policies managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).[^300] The Act is typically renewed every two years, with each iteration introducing new projects, modifying existing ones, and setting policy priorities for the USACE.[^301]

Some of the key amendments and their provisions include:

  • WRDA 1986: Established cost-sharing formulas for the construction and maintenance of harbors, inland waterways, and flood control projects.[^302]
  • WRDA 1990: Emphasized environmental protection and restoration, including the creation of the Environmental Protection and Mitigation Fund.[^303]
  • WRDA 2000: Expanded the USACE's role in ecosystem restoration and watershed management, and authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.[^304]
  • WRDA 2007: Introduced reforms to the USACE's planning process and prioritized projects based on their national significance and economic benefits.[^305]
  • WRDA 2018: Focused on infrastructure investment, streamlining project delivery, and enhancing the USACE's partnerships with local communities and stakeholders.[^306]

These changes have been driven by various factors, including the need to address aging water infrastructure, the growing importance of environmental sustainability, and the desire to promote economic growth and job creation.[^307]

As of 2023, there are no major proposed rules or pending legislation related to the WRDA. However, the Act is expected to be reauthorized in the coming years, and stakeholders should stay informed about potential changes and their implications for water resources projects and policies. To stay engaged in the regulatory process, interested parties can:

  • Monitor the USACE's website and social media channels for updates and announcements.[^308]
  • Participate in public meetings, workshops, and comment periods related to specific projects or policy initiatives.[^309]
  • Engage with industry associations, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders to share information and advocate for their interests.[^310]

Additional Resources

  1. Full text of the Water Resources Development Act and its amendments:
  2. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' WRDA: Provides an overview of the WRDA, its key provisions, and the USACE's role in implementing the Act.
  3. Congressional Research Service report on the WRDA: Offers a comprehensive analysis of the WRDA's legislative history, major provisions, and policy implications.
  4. American Society of Civil Engineers' Infrastructure Report Card: Assesses the condition and performance of the nation's inland waterways and discusses the role of the WRDA in addressing infrastructure challenges.
  5. National Waterways Conference's WRDA webpage: Provides updates and analysis on the WRDA from an industry perspective, including summaries of key provisions and potential impacts on waterways stakeholders.

[^300]: Water Resources Development Act of 1986, Pub. L. No. 99-662, 100 Stat. 4082. [^301]: Nicole T. Carter and Anna E. Normand, "Water Resources Development Act: Primer," Congressional Research Service, updated January 5, 2021, https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R46320. [^302]: Water Resources Development Act of 1986, Pub. L. No. 99-662, §§ 101-103, 100 Stat. 4082, 4082-4084. [^303]: Water Resources Development Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-640, § 307, 104 Stat. 4604, 4635-4636. [^304]: Water Resources Development Act of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106-541, §§ 101, 601, 114 Stat. 2572, 2572-2673. [^305]: Water Resources Development Act of 2007, Pub. L. No. 110-114, §§ 2001-2036, 121 Stat. 1041, 1067-1109. [^306]: Water Resources Development Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-270, 132 Stat. 3765. [^307]: Carter and Normand, "Water Resources Development Act: Primer," 1-2. [^308]: "Water Resources Development Act," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Project-Planning/Legislative-Links/wrda2018/. [^309]: Ibid. [^310]: "WRDA," National Waterways Conference, https://waterways.org/wrda/.


  1. 33 U.S.C. § 2201 (2021). https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/33/2201

  2. 33 U.S.C. § 2211 (2021). https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/33/2211

  3. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (2021). Planning Process. https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Project-Planning/Planning-Process/

  4. Federal Register. (2021). The Army Corps of Engineers Wants Your Comments on WR to Compliance Guidance. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/04/30/2021-09036/the-army-corps-of-engineers-wants-your-comments-on-wrda-implementation-guidance

Keep up with the latest

A Note to Our Readers: We hope this guide is a valuable resource in helping you better understand the WRDA. However, it's not a substitute for professional advice and doesn't cover every scenario. Always consult with regulatory bodies and professionals for the most current advice and project-specific guidance.