The override by Congress on Nov. 8 of President George Bush's veto of the Water Resources Development Act - WRDA as it is called - is a major step forward. A statement from the Iowa Corn Growers Association says the override was needed to make progress in the effort to update the U.S. transportation system that ships grain and other products on the Mississippi River.
"Iowa's corn growers should really celebrate this achievement," says Warren Kemper, a farmer from Louisa County and long-time advocate for improving the river's infrastructure. "The Iowa Corn Growers Association has been lobbying for lock and dam improvements for more than a decade. WRDA is important to farmers who depend on the inland waterways, but it is also important to the whole economy of the upper Midwest."
President George W. Bush vetoed WRDA on Nov. 2, but the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to override the veto – the House on Nov. 6 by 361 votes to 54 and the Senate on Nov. 8 by 79 votes to 14.
Locks, dams in bad need of repair
Kemper says it has been seven years since Congress passed the last water resources bill and passing this one is long overdue. He notes that some of the locks and dams on the Mississippi River and Illinois River were built in the 1930s with a projected lifespan of 50 years.
"Our lock and dam system has been neglected for many years," says the southeast Iowa farmer. "Like the big Interstate Highway bridge collapse that occurred in Minneapolis this past summer, this system is just another example of how our nation has ignored essential improvements to our infrastructure."
The 2007 Water Resources and Development Act addresses the modernization of seven locks along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers. The locks need to be lengthened to accommodate the size of modern barge tows and to improve river shipping efficiency. Currently, barge tows have to be broken apart so they can pass through a number of the locks and dams on the Mississippi. Taking the large barge tows apart, passing through the small locks, and reassembling the barge tows again causes back-ups and delays in shipping. That increases the cost to ship grain and other commodities up and down the river.
We must keep up with competition
When complete, the upgrades will improve the transportation of grains bound for export and domestically essential commodities such as coal for electric power generation, petroleum and chemical products, and aggregates. WRDA will also provide for unprecedented levels of ecosystem restoration.
Sen. Chuck Grassley issued the following statement after the Senate passed WRDA, overriding President George Bush's earlier veto of the legislation:
"The Water Resources Development Act contains necessary improvements to ensure our agriculture producers and manufacturers are able to compete in a global market in the future. I've visited Brazil and I've seen the investment that Brazil is putting into its infrastructure on the Amazon River. We're learning that unless we update the infrastructure on our own rivers, we're going to see higher and higher input costs and fewer and fewer markets for our commodities."
Expensive repairs will be worth it
Kemper says Bush vetoed the bill because of money. "The president thinks it is too costly, but our view is that these repairs are sorely needed," says Kemper.
It has been estimated that the WRDA bill will cost $22 to $23 billion to carry out, although not all of that money will be spent on improving locks and dams, notes Kemper. There are a number of environmental and other projects included in the WRDA bill and they are in other states, too, not just the states along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.
Craig Lang, president of Iowa Farm Bureau, also applauds the veto override. "We believe President Bush made a mistake. He hurt agriculture when he vetoed the WRDA bill," says Lang. "We've been working to try to get this legislation passed for years. Having a first-rate river transportation system is a significant key if the United States is to stay competitive in world markets. Those locks and dams need major repair, and they must be expanded so we can maintain our competitive position for marketing U.S. goods to the world."
WRDA is "absolutely crucial"
"WRDA is absolutely crucial to farmers who depend on the inland waterway system to deliver their crops to the global marketplace and to businesses who rely on the river system to move their raw materials and products," says Ron Litterer, a farmer from Greene, Iowa, who is president of the National Corn Growers Association. "As it stands now, our infrastructure can't keep pace with the current demands and it is falling apart."
John Hoffman, who farms near Waterloo, Iowa, is president of the American Soybean Association. He notes that more than 75% of U.S. soybean exports move to world ports via the Upper Mississippi and Illinois river systems.