It is hard not to be discouraged after the year we’ve had, and the sad reality is that many of the problems experienced in 2012 aren’t going away anytime soon. Lower-than-average rainfall affected farmers’ ability to grow crops and the ability to navigate the inland waterways because of low water levels. To make matters worse, hurricanes Isaac and Sandy also ripped through parts of the country causing some commotion for commerce moving on the waters. And of course there continues to be a lack of funding for dredging projects and a deteriorating lock and dam system.
But these types of issues are not new. Anyone who is involved in inland waterways transportation has always had to contend with economic ups and downs, funding obstacles, weather factors and deteriorating infrastructure. Yet the industry continues to forge ahead. There is much to be said for the tenacity and resiliency of the people whose livelihoods rely on the inland waterways and to those public officials and bulk commodities producers who recognize the country’s river systems are one of our country’s hugest assets. The inland waterways serve as the gateway to global trade, allowing the United States to ship bulk materials in large quantities that end up all over the globe. Those who work for ports, terminals and barging companies already know this.
It is imperative that government and business leaders are also made aware of the value that the inland waterways hold. The rise of coal exports and production of corn-based ethanol have helped give inland waterways a boost in traffic over the last few years. The expansion of the Panama Canal also is prompting some improvements to the Mississippi River’s harbors.
Legislation has been proposed that could help fund future improvements. The American Waterworks Act, recently was introduced by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to modernize U.S. waterways and ports.
Spurred by the severe drought conditions and Hurricane Isaac, 41 mayors from the Mississippi River basin met this fall to discuss how to draw attention to the Mississippi River. They also signed a pledge in support of promoting the river.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who hosted the meeting, remarked, “The drought and hurricane serve as urgent reminders that the Mississippi River needs to be a national priority. As mayors, we have vowed to forge ahead with one voice to protect the local and national interests presented by this vast and important river.”
River transportation remains a viable and economical option for many commodities, and that is going to continue to be the case for what I hope is many years. While we can’t control the weather, there are some things we can at least influence. We can, like Mayor Slay and his counterparts in other cities, forge ahead and bring attention to the issues that face a vital part of our trade and transportation system. We can build relationships with legislators and we can support associations whose mission it is to be an industry voice.