With a wide variety of pressing issues facing the federal government over the coming months, funding for desperately needed lock and dam improvements remains a high priority for the nation's corn farmers according to the National Corn Growers Association.  With the country's inland navigation system moving more than a billion bushels of grain per year, about 60 percent of all grain exports, farmers understand the importance of a functional waterways system.

(For more, see: US inland waterway system a national embarrassment)

"Our inland waterway system plays a crucial role in the nation's economy, and we must act now to help our leaders understand that funding improvements is critical to maintaining our industry's viability," said NCGA President Garry Niemeyer.  Achieving our goal is not only important for farmers and shippers, our nation as a whole will benefit from the job creation and shipping efficiencies this project would generate."

The country's inland navigation system plays an even more visible role in the economy also, moving more than a billion tons of domestic commerce valued at more than $300 billion per year.  Yet, investment in the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Waterways has not kept pace with the needs of the transportation sector.  Designed to last only 50 years, much of the lock system is approaching 80 years old and signs of deterioration are readily apparent.  

Not only has this crucial infrastructure far-exceeded its lifespan, it cannot accommodate modern barging practices that use 1,100 foot barge-tows.  Many of the locks are only 600 feet long, forcing barges to use the time-consuming and dangerous double-locking procedure. 

Government and industry officials agree that the precarious state of the waterway system stems from a flawed method of maintaining and replacing aging locks and dams.  Despite authorizing a bill that would create $8 billion in projects that would replace or rehabilitate aging river infrastructure, it did not fully fund these projects at that time. Instead, the projects are funded in a piecemeal fashion, slapping Band-Aids on the gushing wound.  This approach has led to significant cost overruns and construction delays counted in decades, not months or years.

Corn growers have been long-time advocates for improvements to the inland waterway system. Following the passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, which provides authorization for construction of seven locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers as well as immediate implementation of small-scale measures and the creation of a major ecosystem restoration program,  NCGA has remained focused on obtaining construction dollars through the annual appropriations process.

Earlier this week, progress was made as Rep. Tim Bishop, ranking member on the House of Representatives Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, submitted a letter to the committee's Chairman Rep. Bob Gibbs requesting proposing the bipartisan organization of a stakeholder roundtable to discuss the deteriorating inland waterways system.  For a full copy of this letter, click here.

This problem is gaining attention outside of the agricultural community.  Last week, thePittsburgh Post-Gazette published a four-part series of articles on the condition of the Pittsburgh region's 23 locks and dams, titled "Locked and Dammed." To read these articles in their entirety, please click here (part 1part 2part 3part 4).

For additional information on NCGA's activities through the Waterways Council Inc., and to view a video highlighting the immediate necessity of improvements, please click here.