Responding to the recent record low water levels along the Mississippi River that threatened navigation and Southern Illinois commerce, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), U.S. Representative Bill Enyart (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL) today introduced bipartisan legislation that would bolster efforts to maintain commercial river traffic during droughts and floods while minimizing the economic toll on Southern Illinois.
"We came close to economic catastrophe when ongoing drought conditions threatened to disrupt the movement of billions of dollars in goods along the Mississippi River. Only through better than expected rainfall, the expedited removal of rock pinnacles at Congress' request and some creative reservoir management was the river able to stay open," said Durbin. "The Army Corps of Engineers should be commended for their efforts over the last few months, but it is clear that we need to be better prepared for these extreme weather events that are becoming more frequent and more severe. Our legislation will make government and businesses that rely on the Mississippi River more prepared for the next flood or drought that threatens jobs and economic activity in Southern Illinois."
"I'm proud to introduce this common-sense, bipartisan proposal to protect Southern Illinois jobs and minimize the economic impact of droughts or flooding on Mississippi River traffic as my first bill in Congress. Commerce on the Mississippi is imperative to the health and economic security of Southern Illinois," said Enyart. "Whether responding to the drought this winter or flooding years before, we must ensure the Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, and local industry have the tools and accurate information they need to plan ahead and respond to extreme weather while maintaining river traffic."
"The Mississippi River is crucial to commerce in this country, and our area has seen first-hand how floods or historic low water levels can completely stop the movement of goods and services," said Davis. "It is imperative that we do all that we can to protect this vital artery so that we can keep our country moving."
The Mississippi River Navigation Sustainment Act would enhance the ability of Southern Illinois and the Army Corps of Engineers to respond quickly to extreme weather events and to maintain traffic in spite of water levels impacted by flooding or drought by:
Authorizing a Greater Mississippi River Basin Extreme Weather Management Study -- The legislation would authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study of how to better coordinate management of the entire Mississippi River Basin -- the third largest watershed in the world -- during periods of extreme weather. The study would include recommendations on how to improve the management of the Basin for navigation and flood risk management, taking into account the effect the management of the entire Basin has on the Mississippi River.
Improving tools used for Mississippi River Forecasting -- In the recent low water levels, some manual river gauges (often painted lines on bridges) were rendered useless making surveying and dredging more difficult. This bill would add additional automated gauges and increase the use of other forecasting tools. Through better and more reliable information, industry in Southern Illinois and all up and down the Mississippi River will be able to make more informed business decisions;
Expanding Flexibility for Army Corps of Engineers -- Current law prevents the Corps from responding to traffic and navigation issues outside of the authorized channel in low water situations. The legislation would grant greater authority to the Corps to provide sufficient depths in fleeting areas and maintain access to docks, loading facilities, and other critical infrastructure; and
Creating an Environmental Pilot Program -- This bill will create a pilot program to enable the Corps to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat in the middle Mississippi River as they conduct navigation projects.