The U.S. has 12,000 miles of inland waterways. Across those 12,000 miles, it moves 600 million tons of cargo annually, including 60 percent of the nation’s grain exports, 22 percent of coal used for generating electricity and 22 percent of domestically produced petroleum and petroleum products.
U.S. production of all three – grain, coal and petroleum products – has been rising exponentially in recent years. The question is can the inland waterways system – much of which is nearing the end of its normal life expectancy – continue to handle the increase?
Brig. Gen. Peter DeLuca, who recently retired as commander of the Mississippi Valley Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says that answer will depend on implementation the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 and how much the U.S. is willing to invest in adapting and improving the system.
In the second part of an interview that followed his presentation to a group of congressional staff members and Delta Council leaders aboard the Motor Vessel Mississippi in August, DeLuca discussed the implementation of the new law.
“The Water Resources Reform and Development Act has several provisions in it telling the Corps to re-examine how our systems operate under these extreme weather events, flooding and drought so that we can adapt properly,” he said.
DeLuca said the Corps of Engineers is going through the law’s provisions, determining how best to implement them and making sure they don’t conflict with other laws.
“We’re doing that now, for section after section,” he said. “We’re working on the ones we believe are most important first and attacking those so we can issue that guidance so we can start taking action on steps in the field.
“My personal view is I would like to see us take some interim steps under interim guides til the final guidance is there. But clearly the first check – are there any laws that conflict with this – has to be done before we do anything.”
The Corps of Engineers is also conducting interactive sessions with stakeholders at the district and division levels and in Washington on their views on what the provisions of the WRRDA Act mean to them and what should happen on the ground. Those will continue until the end of September.
“That input will help to guide how we seek to craft that implementing guidance, and, in my opinion, to exploit as much freedom as the Congress is authorizing us to use because that’s what’s good for the country, and it will allow the most amount of innovation.”
In his presentation and in the interview, DeLuca questioned the wisdom of trying to pay down the federal deficit at the same time the country is struggling to recover from its worst economic crisis since the 1930s Depression.
“I think some of the confusion occurs in trying to escape from the Depression – it wasn’t the Great Depression like the one my father lived through – but still it was a depression,” said DeLuca, who studied under a fellowship to the Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
“We have one of the slowest recoveries in the history of our country occurring now, and it’s sputtering. We had no growth last quarter. We think this quarter we’re growing again, but we won’t know for a couple of months.”
When a country is trying to emerge from a depression, DeLuca says, “that is the wrong time to seek to pay down your debt because federal government countercyclical spending is designed to counter balance the lack of economic activity in the private sector and reduce the impact of those depressions and recessions.”
To watch Gen. DeLuca’s full presentation, go to http://youtu.be/Cvf0DpBuXDE