The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill Thursday to authorize water-infrastructure projects across the country.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act is the first such bill Congress has considered in more than six years.
The bill clears the way for improvements to levees and dams and to ports and inland waterways. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the committee's chairman, called that vital to the country's economy.
"A strong water transportation network is critical to keeping pace with other nations that are improving their own infrastructure networks and gaining ground in an increasingly competitive global marketplace," he said.
The House will consider the bill amid a larger debate over fiscal policy, with a showdown looming in Congress over the national debt limit and a continuing resolution to fund the operation of the federal government. Unlike those issues, however, the water legislation enjoys bipartisan support in both chambers.
"I hope that the full House can approve this measure with the same strong bipartisan spirit that our committee has displayed in advancing it today," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the ranking committee member.
The committee vote drew praise from two California Democrats who have made the legislation a priority, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Doris Matsui.
Boxer, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led the Senate version of the legislation to overwhelming approval in May. If the full House approves its version, the two chambers will meet in conference to work out the final legislation for President Barack Obama to sign.
"For the economy's sake, we must pay attention to our ports, to flood control, and to ecological restoration," Boxer said.
Matsui, who represents California's flood-vulnerable capital, Sacramento, called the committee's vote an important step. However, she added, there is more work to do.
The bill authorizes the completion of the Natomas Levee Improvement Project, which would protect the Sacramento area from a 200-year flood and end a federal moratorium on construction in the floodplain.
"The people of Natomas and Sacramento have waited long enough for improved flood protection," she said.