This week, President Obama signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) into law. It authorizes much needed improvements to the U.S. waterways infrastructure. It’s the first water resources policy update in seven years.
That’s big news for the future of agriculture.
The bill is estimated to cost $12.3 billion over the next 10 years, create jobs and streamline the planning and approval process for water projects. Most importantly, it will guarantee that corn and soybeans and other Midwest crops will continue to flow to overseas markets through the U.S. inland waterway system.
“This is vitally important,” says Rich Guebert Jr., Illinois Farm Bureau president. “It allows lock and dam improvements so agriculture all of commerce can be competitive in the world market.”
Support for the bill was nearly unanimous. The U.S. Senate had approved the bill on a 91 to 7 vote. The House voted 412 to 4.
“We’re pleased Congress recognizes the ports, channels, locks, dams and other infrastructure that support our waterways transportation are vital to America’s ability to provide affordable agricultural products at home and abroad,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
More than 23 years ago, I can remember writing about refurbishing Lock and Dam 26, near Alton. I was pregnant with my daughter (now 24) and had to walk across a bridge that was precariously high above the water. Somehow, the pregnancy threw off my balance, and I felt my legs leaving me. I made it to the guard house, did my interview and prayed all the way back to land. It gave me a new appreciation for those who work the locks and dam on a daily basis. Even then, I was made keenly aware of how important a strong waterway system is to the future of agriculture. Those locks were responsible for moving grain grown in central Illinois south to the Gulf, where it was shipped around the world. Without those exports, farmers would not receive the price they needed for their corn and soybeans, and much of the world that depended on the U.S. for food, would go hungry. I’ve never forgotten that lesson.
I’ve paid particular attention to this WRRDA bill, which is so critical to the success of America’s agriculture. Here are a few of the highlights of the bill:
- Help in financing the Olmsted Lock and Dam project. The Inland Waterways Trust Fund would finance only 15 percent of the cost. The WRRDA bill would increase federal funding from 50 percent to 85 percent. It would also require the U.S. Corps of Engineers to submit annual financing plans for any inland navigation project that costs more than $500 million.
- Public-private partnerships would be increased to pay for previously authorized projects.
- Increased funding for harbor maintenance. The bill increases the amount of money generated by the Harbor Maintenance Tax each year for harbor maintenance and dredging.
- Authorizes a study to evaluate how the Mississippi River Basin functions and how it should be managed.
- Accelerates the planning process and streamlines environmental reviews.