Out of all the waterways stories of the past year, with their ups, downs and quirks, three trends seemed to predominate. One was the ongoing drought and fluctuating river levels, which went from low to high and back again, causing particular challenges in the harvest seasons. We are still in that El Niño cycle, which may last until April, weather authorities tell us.
The level of activity on infrastructure projects also cranked up as funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act continued to flow through the pipeline. This year saw a striking number of groundbreakings of major new infrastructure projects on our rivers, ports and waterways. Those starts included projects that took decades of dedicated and almost invisible work behind the scenes to bring them to the attention of lawmakers in Congress. Projects that many thought might never happen finally began.
The number of unscheduled closures and repair work on locks and dams during the past year showed that the funding came along none too soon, and more is needed.
Nevertheless, cargoes continued to move. Dredging activity cranked up several notches. The dredging industry, barge companies, the Coast Guard and the Corps of Engineers all performed above and beyond the call of normal duty to keep navigation flowing and incidents at a minimum.
A third trend is the ongoing workforce shortage. This challenge might be the most significant. From deckhands to welders to construction workers, the opportunities to join the ranks of the amazing men and women who are vital to our river communities, economy, environment and even our national security are plentiful. To make things worse, many strong mentors have been lost to age, illness and retirement. Fortunately, many have stepped up to fill those roles but more are likely needed. There are some big shoes to fill.
It seems clear that mentorship and recruitment will continue to be a priority in 2024, but we are optimistic that the draw of the river will provide. To join an industry that contributes so much has an appeal to any generation (we hope). Whatever the challenges are ahead, the industry will overcome it thanks to you and those who join your ranks.
Our sincere gratitude and very best to you and yours this holiday season.