On July 22, Mike Simpson left his office in Valparaiso, Ind., for EPA’s Region 5 office in downtown Chicago. It’s only about 50 miles, but construction in the already congested Illinois/Indiana corridor makes the drive a nightmare. Still, it was worth it for Simpson, CEO of M.E. Simpson Co. Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in water and wastewater collection and distribution.

He was one of about 50 others gathered for EPA’s first Q&A session on the most important piece of federal water-funding legislation in almost a decade. Signed into law on June 10, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) provides $12.3 billion over 10 years for water, sewer, and inland waterway projects.

Reflecting the Obama administration philosophies that have profoundly changed how federal dollars are reaching state and local highway projects over the last two years, the successor to 2007’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) doesn’t just provide money. It overhauls how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the federal agency that oversees 12,000 miles of inland waterways, spends it; and provides a new financing mechanism for water, sewer, and stormwater utilities.

The former imposes major changes on the USACE’s project-delivery process. The latter enhances EPA’s State Revolving Funds (SRF) program, a major source of funding for water and sewer projects. Together, these two changes should give local agencies more say so on federal projects within their jurisdiction and help cities and counties bridge the billions-of-dollars funding gap to upgrade and repair aging treatment plants and pipelines.

Like the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), the Obama administration’s surface transportation funding package signed in July 2012, not everyone is convinced the reforms will work as intended. But for the most part, public works professionals are relieved.

“This will improve the quality of life in our communities with job-generating projects that provide flood protection, environmental restoration, and improve our waterway infrastructure,” says Edward A. Gottko, immediate past president of the American Public Works Association, an international professional organization with 28,500 members. “These reforms will shorten the time it takes to complete projects, save taxpayers money, and ensure that environmental quality isn’t diminished.”

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