WJ Editorial

Crisis And Opportunity On The Rivers

Who was it who said, “Never let a crisis go to waste”?

The phrase certainly applies to opportunities for discussion arising in the wake of the recent devastating rains and flooding of most river systems that set new records this spring. The rains and floods hit already hurting farmers hard, seriously delayed shipping and caused untold billions of dollars in damage to farms and infrastructure; dollar estimates are still being calculated.

The last few issues of the WJ feature reports of a number of discussions on management of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. They are hosted by the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, the Rock Island Engineer District, the Little Rock Port Authority, America’s Watershed Initiative, and other entities. Those discussion share several things in common. They are urgent, they seek regional and system-wide perspectives and inputs, and they are increasingly converging.

On July 8, the River Industry Executive Task Force (RIETF) sent a letter to top Corps of Engineer officials, as well as to Assistant Secretary R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army, civil works.

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“Today, we have faced and continue to face an unprecedented challenge. The nation’s transportation system has been gravely harmed with closing and severe restrictions throughout the system since late in 2018. After 85 days of closure on the Upper Mississippi and lengthy closures on most major rivers, traffic is finally moving. Despite the re-opening, traffic is still moving with restricted tows and random closings. Some places on the Arkansas River and in other locations continue to be impassable, hampering the nations’ economic engine.”

The RIETF letter stresses the need for immediate emergency supplemental dredging funds to restore devastated and silted-in river channels. A recently passed bill, H.R. 2157, includes an additional $100 million for emergency dredging, but REITF estimates that at least an additional $43 million is needed.

As this issue goes to press, more rains are deluging New Orleans and a forming hurricane is threatening the Gulf Coast. Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that more pressing infrastructure needs will accrue.

With weather experts telling us that increased rainfall and flooding like this will be an increasing part of our new normal, water and river transportation stakeholders are speaking with one voice as never before.

Congress and the president have a historic chance not just to slap on band-aids, but to finally get ahead of our river transportation infrastructure needs. Never has the need been more urgent and the public and media attention more focused. We hope they won’t wait for final damage tallies to be assessed before they act.