Pros and cons about improvements to locks and dams
Some in Congress; much of the general public outside the Mississippi River basin, and even some university ecologists and other professors aren’t convinced it is a wise idea to invest heavily in upgrading the locks and dams system of the Mississippi River.
Earlier this month, Robert Criss, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University, St. Louis, wrote a commentary for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper in which he argued against an “infusion of federal funds for river engineering and maintenance projects” for the Mississippi River and Missouri River.
To condense and paraphrase, Criss had six points of complaints:
- River structures impede flow and destroy wetlands or isolate the channel from floodplains.
- Loss of shallow water and island habitat decrease fish, fowl and mussel type animal reproduction and volume.
- River structures provide opportunities for invasive river species to spread such as Asian carp.
- Barge traffic is not economical and requires constant taxpayer money to build and maintain locks and dams because barge companies don’t pay expense other than a fuel tax.
- Barge traffic is problematic because of river structures such as locks and dams and bridges can be easily damaged by barges.
- Weather instability is projected to cause high differences of water level from year to year.
Criss suggested rules to reducing the length and draft of barge tows on the upper Mississippi River, make barge companies pay more costs and “de-authorize” barge navigation of the Missouri River.
What initiated the commentary from Criss was a bipartisan group of senators sending a letter to the leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The senators asked the committee to include funding and strong language for establishing a long-term strategy to expedite construction and operation of lock and dam projects along the Mississippi River, with a long-term strategy in a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).
U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent the letter.
"The system of locks and dams along the Upper Mississippi is in desperate need of modernization. The current system was built 70 years ago and updates are needed to fit the requirements of modern barge technology. Many of the older locks are only 600 feet in length, while most current barge tows using the waterway are twice as long. That means these goods take twice as long to get down river and into the marketplace," wrote the senators.