WJ Editorial
WJ Editorial

Future Of Missouri River Again In Focus

We recently covered the opening of an $11 million grain terminal at the port of Blencoe, Iowa, funded by a farm co-op. The opening of the terminal will return barge transportation to the farthest north it’s been in years on the Missouri River. The move comes at a time when the river is still repairing damage from the historic 2019 floods that damaged levees and silted in the channel.

Under its determined president and CEO, Jon Stephens, the port of Kansas City has been reviving its port capabilities from near-dormant status. The Missouri River Terminal at the port has just learned it will receive a $9.88 million grant for development in the latest round of U.S. Department of Transportation grants.

All this private and public investment amounts to a remarkable collective bet on the future of commercial navigation on the Missouri River, at the same time the extensive damage from the flood of 2019 is still being repaired. The river’s channel is not yet completely restored, and barges are light-loading.

A September letter from Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to Assistant Secretary of the Army-Civil Works R.D. James pointed out that the floods damaged the river’s training structures, reducing its ability to self-scour. According to Parson’s letter, “These factors have led to shoaling, costly delays and serious navigation accidents. Carriers have been unable to deliver contracted exports to market.”

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In other words, the silting of the navigation channel is not merely a holdover from the flood but is ongoing and very expensive. A letter signed by members of Congress from states along the Missouri River recently estimated the funding need for the Lower Missouri River stands at about $200 million, about 10 times the currently available funds. Col. William Hannan Jr., commander of the Kansas City Engineer District, is reportedly doing his best to redirect resources to the river from other Corps districts. The Rock Island District has lent a floating plant to help fix levees along the river.

The damage doesn’t only affect scouring, but also the river’s ability to properly channel the releases it gets from upstream reservoirs. This means that instead of getting moved along the channel, more water gets diverted into side channels, where it evaporates. This is not just a Missouri River issue, but as always, affects the Mississippi River as well. The Lower Mississippi River has been experiencing low-water restrictions lately.

Providing enough money to get the Missouri River back into good shape is one of the most important national infrastructure moves Congress can make, and we don’t need to wait for a national infrastructure policy to do it.