The Senate Tuesday considered the Water Resources Development Act, legislation that ag groups maintain is important for economic growth and agricultural transportation.
More than 20 groups authored a joint letter supporting the legislation, which would authorize projects for flood protection, port improvements and upgrades to locks and dams. Farm groups said also that it is important to relieve growing congestion on highways and improve competition in the transportation system.
"America's inland waterways and ports long have provided U.S. farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses with a strong comparative advantage, enhancing our ability to efficiently and competitively serve domestic and global markets, as well as to secure essential crop inputs for production of grains, oilseeds and other agricultural commodities," the letter stated.
Groups noted that river transport is the "lowest cost and most environmentally sustainable transportation mode." They said inland waterway transportation costs are two to three times less than other modes, translating into an annual savings of $7 billion.
Additionally, the groups said 95% of U.S. ag exports and imports are transported through U.S. harbors, supporting more than 400,000 jobs.
On the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River System, 57% of the locks were built in the 1930s with a projected 50-year lifespan, the letter said. Of those, 26% are more than 70 years old.
"The 2013 infrastructure report card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the inland waterways a D- grade," the letter explained.
Water transportation has received a considerable amount of play in the legislature and by the media over the past several months, due to lock and dam closures on the Mississippi following low and high water levels, barge collisions and damage to a faulty protection cell at Lock 27 on the Mississippi River.
According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the lock closure cost the economy $2.8 million a day. The lock was closed for nearly a week.
The bill was passed unanimously by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in April. It is traditionally revisited every two years.