While the Army Corps of Engineers and all those involved in waterway transport do their best to handle the rising and sinking water levels, there is no plan in place to manage these vital shipping arteries. However, a bill introduced in the House, the Mississippi River Navigation Sustainment Act (H.R. 1152), would help maintain the critical movement of goods during periods of extreme weather.

"Whether it is low water conditions or devastating floods, we need to be proactive in planning and preparing to keep the Mississippi River open for commerce," American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman wrote in a letter to the bill's sponsors, Reps. Bill Enyart (D-Ill.) and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.).

Farmers and ranchers support the legislation as part of a comprehensive effort-like the Water Resources Development Act recently passed by the Senate-to ensure an efficient and reliable inland waterways system linked to competitive ports. Without such a system, producers would be hard-pressed to provide affordable agricultural products to U.S. consumers and those in other countries.

Stallman praised Enyart and Davis' bill, saying it will improve the understanding of the Mississippi River system while giving the Corps more flexibility to deal with extreme weather events through better water management, improved river forecasting and more effective environmental management.

The legislation would provide more automated gauges and increase the use of other river level forecasting tools, which would help river users make more informed business decisions.

The bill would also authorize the Corps to conduct a study of how to better coordinate management of the entire Mississippi River Basin during periods of extreme weather. The study would include recommendations on improving the management of the basin for navigation and flood risk management, taking into account the effect the management of the entire basin has on the Mississippi River.

In addition, the measure would give the Corps more authority to ensure sufficient depths in fleeting areas and maintain access to docks, loading facilities and other critical infrastructure.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has introduced a companion bill (S. 565) in the Senate. Much of Durbin's legislation was incorporated into the Senate-passed WRDA bill.

 

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