A group of senators on Wednesday introduced the Water Resources Development Act to provide $2.475 billion for construction of seven new locks and other improvements on the upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.
The introduction was welcomed by the National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association who say that the bill a major step toward restoring the competitive advantage that a modern, well-maintained river system provides.
Over 75% of U.S. soybean exports move to world ports via the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River systems. The lock and dam system on these rivers was constructed nearly 60 years ago during the New Deal era to handle 600-foot barges. Today, most barge tows are 1,200 feet long, requiring the tow to be split and sent through one section at a time. This results in delays that increase transportation costs, resulting in lower commodity prices and fewer international sales for farmers, a statement from ASA says.
"While U.S. farmers are fighting to maintain market share in a fiercely competitive global marketplace, our international competitors are investing in transportation infrastructure," ASA President Neal Bredehoeft says. "Argentina has invested over $650 million in their transportation systems to make their exports more competitive. Brazil is reconstructing its water transport network to reduce the cost of shipping soybeans by at least 75%. Due in large part to these efforts, the two countries have captured 50% of the total growth in world soybean sales during the past three years."
Modernization of Mississippi River locks and dams is critical to agriculture and related industries that rely heavily on the inherent efficiencies of river transportation because of higher production costs. More than 60% of all grain exports move from the Upper Mississippi, making modernization crucial if farmers are going to be successful internationally.
Over 400,000 full and part-time jobs in the Mississippi River basin are connected to the river. A recent study estimates the loss of 30,000 jobs nationwide, $562 million annually in lost farm income and $185 million annually in lost state and local tax receipts if the lock and dam system is not upgraded.
NCGA President Leon Corzine says that NCGA and other grassroots organizations concerned about rural America acknowledge much work remains to be done. "Failure to get WRDA to the presidentâ€™s desk this year will have dire consequences for corn farmers and agriculture as well as rural America," he says.
The bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Kit Bond, R-Mo., James Inhofe, R-Okla., Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Jim Talent, R-Mo., Barack Obama, D-Ill., Mary Landrieu, D-La., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Pete Domenici, R-N.M., David Vitter, R-La., John Warner, R-Va., George Voinovich, R-Ohio, Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., John Thune, R-S.D, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Ark.
The Water Resource Development Act will now be considered by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Legislation similar to the legislation introduced today passed by the Senate Committee during the last Congress but was never considered on the floor of the Senate.