By Brad Walker, Rivers Director February 9, 2017
After a century of recklessly damaging our rivers — far too often for little public benefit, one would hope that we would have learned some lessons. One of them should be that we would make it easier to restore our rivers than it is to further damage them. The committee structures intended to provide specific recommendations on river management that our lawmakers enacted, unfortunately, have produced the opposite result.
In 1986 Congress gave the barge industry special interests a committee that, by its design, can easily agree on industry-favorable recommendations for further development of barge navigation. In contrast, river restoration advocates were saddled with a conflict-ridden, oversized committee that by its design is unlikely to agree on river restoration recommendations of any significance.
Stakeholder committees serve special interests regardless of legislative goals
Congress has the ability to create committees and boards that are tasked with providing stakeholder recommendations and guidance to government agencies to help the agencies perform their duties. This article will compare two of those entities that were created to provide recommendations and guidance to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) regarding the Corps management of our rivers.
The Inland Waterways System (IWS) is an industrialized version of what were once America’s natural major rivers. Congress authorized and funded massive alterations of the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Kentucky, Columbia, and other major rivers to accommodate nine-foot draft barges to be pushed up and down our rivers, typically by channelizing and/or damming the rivers. There are about 12,000 official miles within the IWS, all of the natural portions severely degraded by the alterations. The map in Figure 1 below shows the rivers and coastal areas that are a part of the IWS in blue lines and the ports on the rivers in yellow dots.
Since the vast majority of commodities transported on the IWS are shipped on the Upper Mississippi River (UMR), Illinois River, Ohio River and/or Lower Mississippi River, I will limit all detailed discussions on those four rivers. Table 1 below compares barge traffic volumes, appropriations and estimated Inland Waterways Trust Fund receipts for 2014 on those segments of the IWS. This table allows us to dig deeper into the cost and use of each of these segments of the IWS so that we can better evaluate the use of taxpayer dollars and weigh the benefits to society of the IWS, the industries it serves, and the materials it transports.… Read the rest