Informal staff-level discussions to merge the Senate’s $12.5 billion Water Resources Development Act with the $8.2 billion House version will start this week, said Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Both the House and Senate versions of the water bill would authorize nearly two dozen dredging, flood control, environmental restoration, and storm mitigation projects, while increasing spending on harbor maintenance and streamlining environmental review processes.

There is a “very good chance” that lawmakers will come to an agreement on what would be the first major dredging and water infrastructure bill since 2007, Boxer said in an interview. The Senate has formally requested a conference on H.R. 3080 and named conferees yesterday. The Senate Democrats on the conferees are Boxer, Max Baucus (MT), Tom Carper (DE), Ben Cardin (MD), and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI). Republicans picked David Vitter (LA), ranking member of the EPW panel, John Barrasso (WY),  and Jim Inhofe (OK).

Despite opposition from environmental and small-government groups, H.R. 3080 and the Senate-passed bill, S. 601 have received wide support from shipping, business, manufacturing and agricultural groups. Only 17 lawmakers in both the House and Senate voted against the water projects bills.