Passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 (S. 601), is essential to America’s economic growth, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
In a joint letter with 20 other agricultural groups, AFBF told members of the Senate that passage of WRDA would authorize new projects for flood protection, port improvements and upgrades to the nation’s aging locks and dams infrastructure. It would also improve U.S. transportation capacity, relieve growing congestion on U.S. highways and foster a more competitive transportation system. The bill was passed unanimously by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in April.
“America’s inland waterways and ports long have provided U.S. farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses with a strong comparative advantage, enhancing our ability to efficiently and competitively serve domestic and global markets, as well as to secure essential crop inputs for production of grains, oilseeds and other agricultural commodities,” the letter stated. “By far the lowest cost and most environmentally sustainable transportation mode, inland waterway transportation costs are two to three times less than other modes, translating into an annual savings of $7 billion.”
Ninety-five percent of U.S. agricultural exports and imports are transported through U.S. harbors. These exports and navigation activity support more than 400,000 jobs.
However, unless WRDA is approved, the inland waterway system is at risk of becoming a potential detriment to the nation rather than a comparative strength.
“A staggering 57 percent of the locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River System were built in the 1930s with a projected 50-year lifespan, and are in desperate need of modernization and expansion,” the letter explained. “Of those, 26 percent are more than 70 years old. The 2013 infrastructure report card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the inland waterways a D- grade.”
Farm Bureau urged the addition of two key provisions during Senate floor consideration: that remaining costs for completion of the Olmsted lock and dam on the Ohio River be financed through federal funding; and that the Senate adopt the increase in the barge diesel fuel user fee. The increase is supported by both barge carriers and their customers, including agricultural shippers and will provide the financial wherewithal to initiate and complete lock projects authorized by S. 601.