AGRIBUSINESS: Legislation Addressing Crumbling Waterway Systems

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There are three main ways corn and soybeans grown in Iowa are exported: railways, trucks, and barges.  But the infrastructure that supports the nation’s waterways have been the focus of federal legislators working on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) conference committee.

Grains grown in Iowa and loaded onto barges on the Mississippi River, reach ports in southern Louisiana after a 13 day trip, but the locks and dams those crops have to pass through are crumbling. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, much of the total inland waterways system has not been updated since the 1950s, with an average 52 service interruptions each day throughout the system.

Soy Transportation Coalition Executive Director Mike Steenhoek says the report is a positive one, and appears to address that problem directly.

"There is a strong indication that this WRRDA bill will provide some additional funding for the inland waterway system. It's anticipated that more money generated by what's called the harbor maintenance task will be used for harbor maintenance for dredging for channel widening activities which is very favorable and that's something that agricultural interests and other frayed interests have been aggressively promoting."

Currently only about half of the $1.8 billion collected in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund are actually used for intended projects. The WRRDA conference report lays out a timeline to redirect all harbor maintenance funds into projects by 2025.

Aside from this change, Steenhoek says the report has other legislative solutions to fund repairing waterways.

"There is language included in WRRDA examining the prospects for alternative financing whether it's a public private partnership engaging the private sector to provide funding." He says, "Not only funding but maybe even managing, operating, constructing some of these lock and dam assets."