WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has approved a wide-ranging bill to authorize water projects across the country, including $526 million in funding for the Trinity River Vision project in Fort Worth that will update flood control for the Trinity River, redevelop land north of downtown and spur economic investment in the area. The bill also includes $170 million to address lead in Flint, Michigan's drinking water and $558 million to provide relief to drought-stricken California.
The Senate approved the $10 billion bill, 78-21, early Saturday, despite complaints from some Democrats that the drought measure was a giveaway to California farmers and businesses. The vote sends the bill to President Barack Obama.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, has been the primary mover behind the project.
“I have been a staunch advocate for TRV since its beginning, and have worked every step of the way to make this vitally important flood and economic development project a reality,” Granger said in a statement. “The benefits of TRV to the people throughout the region simply cannot be overstated. That is why so many citizens, groups and community leaders have worked tirelessly to see it through.
Congresswoman Kay Granger released the following statement after Congress passed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, which will now go to the President to be signed into law. Among other critical water infrastructure projects, this bill authorizes the transformational Trinity River Vision (TRV) project.”
The Trinity River Vision project, estimated to cost $909.9 million total, is a plan that will divert the Trinity River near downtown Fort Worth, create an urban lake, create about 12 miles of new development along the waterfront and open up the area just north of downtown for redevelopment. The city, the county and the state are also contributing funds for the project. Currently, three bridges are under construction for the project, though there have been some delays because of construction issues with the bridges. .
“With an estimated economic impact of over $1 billion to the area,” Granger continued, “TRV will bring jobs and opportunities to people throughout our region and make necessary improvements to outdated flood protection infrastructure along 88 miles of the Trinity River. New economic development will transform the river into the heart of our community – adding 800 acres to our dynamic downtown, and connecting it to our world-class Cultural District and Stockyards.
“The passage of this important legislation is a dream come true for Fort Worth. After many years, the Trinity River will finally be treated like the prized possession it is,” she said.
The passage of the act, likely to be signed by President Obama, may spur additional development in the project, which is called the Panther Island District. In October, the first large private development for the district – a 233,198 square-foot multi-family community – was announced.
“This announcement just opened the next phase of Panther Island – dynamic vertical growth,” said J.D. Granger, executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority, the organization responsible for the implementation of the Trinity River Vision (TRV) plan, at the time.
Other areas of the country impacted by the bill funds include California and Michigan.
The extended drought has devastated California's abundant farmland and forced families to cut back on water consumption. In the past two years, 35,000 people have lost jobs, 1 million acres of farm land have gone fallow and 2,400 private water wells have gone dry, while more than 100 million trees on federal land have died.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was one of the bill's key authors, but found herself urging senators to vote no because of a last-minute rider that Boxer said puts the interests of big farms over the fishing industry.
Boxer, the senior Democrat on the Senate environment panel, is retiring after 24 years in the Senate and said she never imagined she'd end her career trying to scuttle her own bill.
"It's bizarre," she said, before launching into a full-throated attack on a provision brokered by two powerful Californians: Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Boxer called the measure the "Midnight Rider" and said it undermines endangered species protections for threatened salmon and other fish and will severely damage the fishing industry in three states — California, Oregon and Washington.
"It's a beautiful bill — vote no," said Boxer, who boasted that the measure included no fewer than 26 provisions to help California.
Feinstein, who has worked on the drought measure for more than a year, said the bill will increase water deliveries to farms and businesses devastated by the years-long drought, which she said has cost the state's economy nearly $5 billion over the past two years.
Feinstein disputed Boxer's claim that the bill would have a negative effect on fish and the environment. The measure merely requires state and federal agencies to use the best available science to control water flows to protect fish while ensuring water deliveries to the San Joaquin Valley and southern California, she said.
"After three years and dozens of versions of legislation, I think this is the best we can do," Feinstein said.
The water-projects bill also includes language authorizing aid for Flint and other cities afflicted by lead in water, although money for the bill was included in a short-term spending bill given final approval late Friday.
Flint's drinking water became tainted when the city switched from the Detroit water system and began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014 to save money. The impoverished city was under state control at the time.
Regulators failed to ensure the water was treated properly and lead from aging pipes leached into the water supply.
"It's past time for Congress to put partisan politics aside and help the people of Flint, who are still without access to clean, safe drinking water from their taps," said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich. – FWBP’s Robert Francis contributed to this report.