• The Mississippi: A Visual Biography by Quinta Scott

    "Great book and great blog - thanks for the first book I have seen that addresses the contemporary river, headwaters to gulf." Dan McGuiness, Audubon, St. Paul, Minnesota

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Conservation Groups Object to the Extension of Upper Mississippi Locks

Old Niota, Pool 19, Upper Mississippi River

Three years ago, Congress finally passed the 2007 Water Resources Development Act, called the WRDA, authorizing the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program, which would govern the expansion of 5 locks on the Upper Mississippi from 600 feet to 1200 feet and 2 on the Illinois, and govern the restoration of the Upper Mississippi ecosystem. Congress ordered that lock expansion and ecosystem happen simultaneously.

It did so after years of controversy over the lock expansion, beginning in February 2000 when Donald Sweeney, an economist for the St. Louis District of the Corps of Engineers, blew the whistle on the project, claiming that the Corps was “cooking the books” to justify the expansion.

The Corps suspended the project after the National Academy of Sciences issued its report on the study in February 2001. From The Mississippi: A Visual Biography:

“The Academy congratulated the Corps of Engineers for developing Sweeney’s formula which it characterized as ‘the first comprehensive model of grain use and exports from the area surrounding the river system,’ but it castigated the engineers for using flawed data and assumptions, when applying the formula to the growth of grain exports and therefore of barge traffic on the Upper Mississippi. The Academy congratulated the Corps for attempting to build a model of the environmental effects of extending the locks and increasing barge traffic, but it castigated the engineers for failing to acknowledge that large-scale structures on the Upper Mississippi have had and would continue to have long-term environmental effects on the river. The Academy concluded that system-wide research needed to be done on the ‘cumulative effects of the existing navigation system on river ecology, on the environmental effects of recent navigation improvements, on the cumulative effects of increased towboat passage, and on site-specific effects of future construction activities on the Upper Mississippi.’”

When the Corps returned to work on the project, the engineers incorporation ecosystem restoration into the study. And, after years of back and forth over the project, the Corps finally averred that lock expansion was not needed and that there are other ways of speeding navigation through the locks without damaging the ecosystem. The engineers turned the future of the project over to Congress.

Congress, at the behest of Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), a champion of the barge industry, included the expansion in the 2007 WRDA.

Bond and the barge industry got their locks expansion, but the river conservationists got thier ecosystem restoration, if Congress would only fund it. Hence, the requirement that lock expansion and ecosystem restoration happen simultaneously, because, both Congress and the Corps much prefer concrete to the flora and fauna the ecosystem supports.

In March 2008 Corps reexamined lock expansion in the light of new data, including the huge spike in fuel prices in 2008, and declared it necessary after all. See the link to the Final Reevaluation of the Study here. I have not included it because it refuses to load on Safari and I have to start over.

Early in 2008, after years of squabbling with the barge industry over locks v. ecosystem, The Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society joined with the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, which represents the governors of the states bordering the river, and the Waterways Council, which represents the navigation industry, in urging Congress to fund the project to the tune of $50 million for 2009.

Now it seems that some members of the environmental community are not so sanguin about lock expansion. In February 2010, a decade after Don Sweeney blew the whistle on the project, a coalition of the Sierra Club, Izaak Walton League, and the National Wildlife Federation called on Congress to de-authorize the expansion of the locks, siting all the reasons Sweeney gave for not expanding the locks in 2000: barge traffic has been flat for decades, there are other, cheaper means of reducing the backup of barges waiting to get through the locks, and expansion is not justified. The group would continue authorization of ecosystem restoration.

I devote a chapter in The Mississippi: A Visual Biography to the relationship between Congress and the Corps of Engineers. The University of Missouri Press has included an excerpt from the chapter in the media kit from the book’s webpage.

Here is a coupon for 20% off on the purchase of The Mississippi: A Visual Biography: Coupon for purchase of The Mississippi, 20% off. You can download it and use the 800 number, mail it in, or go to the University of Missouri Press site and insert AFS9 in the promo code box next to the check out box.

Indian Creek at the Upper Mississippi, Pool 25

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6 Responses

  1. i like the moody atmosphere in this

  2. The report discussed above can be downloaded at: http://iwla.org/bigprice

  3. Excellent post I must say.. Simple but yet entertaining and engaging.. Keep up the awesome work!

  4. Hot damn, another wetland ecologist on the interwebs! Just found your blog and I’m really enjoying it. Feel free to stop by the River Mud Blog anytime.

  5. Great book and great blog – thanks for the first book I have seen that addresses the contemporary river, headwaters to gulf.

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