The U.S. Senate passed the first legislation authorizing infrastructure upgrades on the nation’s waterways since 2007, including improvements to locks and dams along the Mississippi River.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act passed 91-7 Thursday, sending the bill to the president. The House passed the measure Tuesday on a 412-4 vote.
The 34 projects authorized by the omnibus legislation will cost an estimated $12.3 billion. Missouri's and Illinois’ senators all voted for the bill. It includes several projects that directly affect this area.
- The Mississippi River Navigation Sustainment Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Collinsville, authorizes a study on the entire river basin during periods of extreme weather. It also increases flexibility for the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain navigation.
- Authorizes $25.66 million in funding for upgrades on the Wood River levee near the Melvin Price Dam in the Metro East.
- Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act, introduced by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., allows public-private partnerships between the Army Corps of Engineers and private entities for planning, designing and financing projects.
- Prioritization of funding for small ports based on amount of commerce supported by the water body. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said that will help prioritize spending on Mississippi River ports.
- Combines several separate Metro East Levee projects that were already authorized into one project authority, giving the Army Corps of Engineers more flexibility in using federal funding to complete the projects.
The Metro East has five levee districts that cover 86 miles from Alton down to Columbia.
Chuck Etwert, the chief supervisor for the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council, said putting multiple levee projects under one umbrella might be more efficient.
"I think it might allow for the movement of funds much more than it has in the past," Etwert said. "[The levees] are independent, but at the same time they all work together as a whole, and the weakest link for one would be the weakest link for all."
Farm groups have been pushing for upgrades to inland waterway infrastructure for years. The National Corn Growers Association’s President Martin Barbre said the legislation is crucial because 60 percent of the nation’s grain exports are transported by barge.
"Our locks and dam system was built in the ‘20s and ‘30s and built for much smaller tows that we use today, and frankly they’re just wore out and we need to replace our infrastructure in the United States," Barbre said.
He said the impact for farmers won’t be felt until the funding is in place. Barbre said while Congress has authorized the projects, the appropriations will come later.
Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman