Congressmen Want Flexibility To Keep Barge Traffic Flowing

Mar 28, 2013

Two Illinois congressmen have introduced legislation they say will make it easier for the Army Corps of Engineers to deal with situations like last year’s record drought.

Credit US Drought Graphic (Army Corps of Engineers)

The measure from Congressmen Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, and Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, would allow the Corps to do work like dredging or rock blasting outside of the main navigation channel without special permission from Congress.  It would also install new river gauges up and down the channel to improve forecasting.

The measure was inspired by last year’s near-record low water levels along the Mississippi River.  The requested study would look at how the government could change its management of locks and dams, and upstream reservoirs. Enyart says it’s time the country started thinking about rivers as a system, not individual bodies of water.

 “How do you balance someone getting to go boating against being able to get barges full of soybeans and corn out to feed the world. As it stands today, we can’t balance those.” -Bill Enyart

Davis says this past summer’s drought shows why those changes are needed.

“Because of the forecasting that the river, the nav channel may not be open, coal miners in my district lost jobs. Based on the forecast. Based on the possibility of the Corps not having the flexibility or the permission to go blow up rock formations.” -Rodney Davis

The measure also calls on the federal government to study how to better coordinate management of the rivers that eventually feed into the Mississippi.

Illinois Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann contributed to this report.