Many of the aging locks and dams along the Mississippi River are crumbling, threatening a key transportation system for the nation's grain and oilseed exports, and a bipartisan group of 10 senators is urging the Trump administration to propose more funding to fix the troubled infrastructure.
“With the expansion of world food and energy needs, the Mississippi River is poised to be more important than ever,” the senators said in a recent letter to Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. “The river already moves large volumes of agricultural and energy products between U.S. markets and ports, and serves as the country’s busiest waterway.”
Many of the locks and dams on the river were built in the 1930s and desperately need fixing, the lawmakers said. Infrastructure all up and down the Mississippi as well as other rivers in the system that take America’s grains to the Gulf of Mexico and bring fertilizer and fuel up to farmers is in need of repair, but the senators are focusing their request for funding on a 10-year old program that focuses mainly on the Upper Mississippi River System.
Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Bill Cassidy, R-La., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Richard Durbin, D-Ill., John Kennedy, R-La., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., are calling on the White House to propose new fiscal year 2019 funding for the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP), a part of the Water Resources Development Act that was first authorized in 2007 and is also designed to help improve the environment.
“Further investment in NESP would strengthen infrastructure and navigation for the entire river and recognize the significance of the UMRS ecosystem to surrounding communities and wildlife,” the senators said in the letter. “With appropriate funding, many NESP projects could be ready for construction within a year, immediately improving the economy and environment, and affirm the importance of the program.”
The senators do not request a specific amount of money, only "sufficient funding."
Not all of the news surrounding America’s waterway infrastructure is bad. Congress agreed about two years ago to an increase in the inland waterways fuel tax, which was raised to 29 cents per gallon, up from 20 cents. That’s allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to significantly increase their work on the locks and dams, said Mike Toohey, CEO of the Waterways Council. Inc.
But there’s still a lot of work left to do, he told Agri-Pulse in October.
“We have a wonderful 12,000-mile system, but that system was put in place primarily during the New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt and hasn’t been modernized since,” he said.