WJ Editorial
WJ Editorial

Positive End To A Tumultuous Year

The dramatic low water on the Mississippi River got extensive coverage nationally and internationally. Barge loads were lightened, tow sizes were shrunk, queues formed as dredges dredged hot spots. Hundreds of people kept in constant touch to monitor river conditions and exchange information. Some cargoes were kept moving, even if others had to be diverted to more expensive modes.

The heroic and mostly behind-the-scenes efforts of the Corps of Engineers dredges and those of its contractors, not to mention the coordinated efforts of the Coast Guard and towing industry personnel serving on various local action committees, got less attention than the dramatic images of exposed wrecks and hikers trekking to Grand Tower. 

According to a recent estimate by Accuweather, the cost of the low water and cargo slowdowns this harvest season could hit $20 billion. That’s a big hit, but who knows how much worse the economic damage might have been if the Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard and industry had not already been adjusting and applying lessons learned from the low water of 1988?

Thankfully, action to cope with similar weather and climate-related events is already happening. The deepening of the Lower Mississippi River Ship Channel was completed this year. The Corps of Engineers is continuing to repair the Missouri River from the floods of 2019. Hurricane protection measures are reducing the impacts of storms in the New Orleans area. 

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Once-in-a-generation infrastructure funding includes climate resilience components that will strengthen our system for years or decades to come. The attention the crisis got reinforced public support for waterways transportation and funding to maintain and preserve it.  In Congress, a corner appears to have been turned on the necessity of maintaining water infrastructure. The importance of water transportation to any green future is accepted by everyone. 

There’s always more to do, but in the words of Gloria Gaynor’s classic hit song, we will survive—and thrive.