The U.S. Senate has approved a measure that would speed modernization of the nation's locks and dams, a move applauded by the nation's farmers who have seen the movement of their crops and inputs jeopardized by the inadequate maintenance of inland waterways.
The Senate approved the Water Resources Development Act (S. 601) on an overwhelming bi-partisan vote of 83-14, May 15. Besides authorizing funding for river modernization, it would help in flood protection and restore environmental areas.
The WRDA would promote investment in the nation's water resource infrastructure, speed up projects that have been languishing and reform the implementation of Army Corps of Engineers projects.
If the bill became law, supporters say it could create up to 500,000 new jobs.
But the future of the bill is uncertain in the House.
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation said the provisions in the bill would help the nation's transportation capacity and relieve growing congestion on the highways.
"More than 60 percent of grain grown by our farmers for export is transported via inland waterways and 95 percent of agricultural exports and imports move through U.S. harbors," Stallman said.
"Considering those facts, new projects for flood protection, port improvements and upgrades to the nation's aging locks and dams infrastructure authorized under WRDA are long overdue.
Senate passage of the bill takes the nation a step closer to water transport upgrades needed to boost the nation's economic growth and is "welcome news for America's farmers, ranchers and agribusiness owners," he added.
Sen. Dick Durbin, (D-IL) said he was hopeful the bill would help speed up the modernization of locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, which aren't scheduled to be completed until 2090.
The Senate bill includes a new, innovative way to upgrade and maintain U.S. water infrastructure investments and will help the Army Corps clear its project backlog even with the severe fiscal constraints in Washington, Durbin said.
The bill would encourage the use of public-private partnerships to speed up the planning and construction of water infrastructure projects and would create a pilot program to explore agreements between the Army Corps and private entities as alternatives to traditional financing, planning, design, and construction models.
The legislation would cost about $12.5 billion over a 10-year period, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Jim Holte said the WRDA provisions are a long-sought legislative priority for his organization. "As such we are very pleased that Sen. Tammy Baldwin supported these critically important infrastructure upgrades."
Holte said the health of Wisconsin's agricultural economy hinges on the state being a reliable supplier of agricultural products to foreign markets. "Given our geographical location, the Great Lakes and Mississippi River are vital paths for Wisconsin products to reach the global marketplace."
The port improvements and upgrades to the "aging lock and dam system are desperately needed," he said.
"Passage of the Water Resources Development Act is long overdue. All Wisconsin farm families will benefit when this investment in our nation's transportation infrastructure finally becomes a reality."