As both houses of Congress take action this week on an economic stimulus bill, the National Corn Growers Association urges its members to contact their congressional delegations to seek funding for waterways infrastructure funding on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. This is especially urgent for growers who have representatives who serve on the House or Senate Appropriations Committees.

"For continued success, the U.S. agricultural industry needs efficient transportation networks, which is why we have been long-time advocates for improvements to our inland waterway system," NCGA and other agriculture groups wrote in a Jan. 13 coalition letter to Congress. "Funding lock and dam improvements and other waterway projects are crucial to farmers who depend on the inland waterway system to deliver their crops to the global marketplace and to businesses who rely on the system to move their raw materials and products."

The seven locks in the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) which were authorized in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act are prime examples of the types of projects that should receive funding in the stimulus package. However, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have both included provisions in the bill that would prohibit the allocation of stimulus funds for so-called "new starts" -- projects which previously have not received construction dollars. The way the bill is currently written, Locks 25, 24, 22, 21, 20 on the Mississippi River and LaGrange and Peoria on the Illinois River would not be eligible for stimulus funds.

Growers are urged to ask their Congressional representatives to remove any language in the stimulus bill that would inhibit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from allocating funds to lock construction on the Upper Mississippi or Illinois Rivers under the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program. These projects have already been authorized by Congress (in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act) and therefore should be a high priority in the stimulus bill.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has estimated that, for every $1 billion invested in navigation or ecosystem restoration, nearly 35,000 jobs would be created. More than 1 billion bushels of grain (approximately 60 percent of all grain exports) move to export markets via the inland waterways each year, accounting for $8.5 billion in exports.