OAKLAND -- A bill aimed at ramping up water projects nationwide is vital to the economic health of the Bay Area and all of California, Sen. Barbara Boxer told maritime business and government leaders Friday.

The Water Resources Development Act, Senate Bill 601, reauthorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deal with water issues ranging from harbor restoration to flood prevention. It cleared the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works -- of which Boxer, D-Calif., is chairwoman -- in March with bipartisan support. And the full Senate is expected to vote on it next week.

Boxer told the Bay Planning Coalition's annual Decision Makers Conference on Friday that she hopes the Senate will pass it by a big enough margin that the House will feel compelled to act as well.

"This is a huge bill for all of California," she said, noting that 45 percent of imports to the United States enter through the Golden State's ports. "This country has many needs, and the needs are not being met."

She said she's particularly excited about a section of the bill that would make low-interest federal loans available for water infrastructure projects across the nation.

The coalition likes another section requiring that money in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, for dredging and maintaining harbors and shipping channels, be spent in a timelier way -- the fund has built up a $7 billion surplus while many projects are kept on the drawing board. Boxer's committee built into this section a formula to ensure California would get a fairer share after the state in 2011 generated 32 percent of the fund's receipts, but received only 8 percent of the funding.

Underscoring the importance of maritime industries to the region's economic vitality, Friday's conference was held at a restaurant and event center in Jack London Square, which is owned and managed by the Port of Oakland -- the nation's fifth-busiest container port, supporting about 50,000 Northern California jobs.

Boxer said the bill is part of a bigger effort to reinvest in the public infrastructure, even as Congress grapples -- so far, largely without success -- with the federal budget sequester's effects.

She apologized Friday for having voted for the sequester deal in the hopes it would lead to a long-term budget deal between Democrats and Republicans. At the time, it seemed so onerous that it couldn't possibly be allowed to take effect, she said.

"I never thought this would happen," she added.

Congress felt the need to pass a five-month fix for irksome air-traffic delays, yet kids are being kicked out of Head Start early education and elderly people are going without medicine, she said. "Where's the outrage? This is dumb, and it's not necessary."

Rep. Eric Swalwell -- addressing the conference during a luncheon later Friday -- blasted the sequester as well. Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, who serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security, noted that the U.S. Coast Guard has had to cut back its patrols of Bay Area waterways and the Bay Bridge.

"It's going to make our infrastructure more vulnerable," he said. "If we don't have national security, we don't have economic security."

The Bay Planning Coalition is a nonprofit group representing public and private entities in the maritime industry and related businesses, including ports and local governments, landowners, recreational users, labor unions, builders and others.

Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.