There has been a great deal of news about our inland waterways in the past few years. Not much of it is promising for agriculture. I’m writing here because I am concerned about the future of agriculture along our rivers here throughout the Midwest.
We rely heavily on our rivers to export our products from farms to ports. Without our rivers farmers will lose an important competitive edge among other countries. Other industries also use our rivers to move products to port. Shipping by barge is the cheapest way to move material—we already have the river systems in place. There’s no need for increased freight to require new roads, or increased maintenance on existing roads.
It’s time our congressmen and senators changed the way the Corps of Engineers runs our river systems. It spends a lot of money on environmental restoration projects and very little on dikes and structures in the river.
This not only happens on the Missouri River—it happens on the Mississippi, Illinois and most other major rivers.
Let’s take a look at the Missouri River, which I am very familiar with. For Fiscal Year 2012, the Corps’ budget was $72.8 million for fish and wildlife, and only $7.3 million for operations and maintenance. For FY-13 the President’s proposed budget is $90 million for fish and wildlife, and $7.7 million for operations and maintenance. The Corps tells us it spends an average of only 20 percent of its annual budget on environmental projects in the Missouri River Basin. From St. Louis to Sioux City, Iowa, we only spent $7.3 million on dikes and structures in the river in 2012. There is a imbalance of money being spent on the environment versus operations and maintenance. As farmers, we are not against environmental restoration, but the time has come to balance the needs of everyone, not just the environment.
A more appropriate budget would be $20 million a year for operations and maintenance and $20 million a year for environmental restoration projects. This would make the Corps be more responsible for what it spends.
Those figures would leave $40 million to put toward locks and dams that are so desperately needed to upgrade our river system.
If we did this along all the rivers in the Midwest, just think about how much money we could use toward upgrades on our river systems to help us compete with other countries.
2011 was a very challenging year for Missouri farmers, from the devastating flooding in Northwest Missouri to the blowing up of the Bird’s Point-New Madrid levee in southeast Missouri.
To make matters worse, in late fall the Corps of Engineers told us it has no money to fix levees. Yet, it still continue with its environmental restoration agenda. After hurricane Katrina we rebuilt New Orleans. The same thing was done for Joplin, Mo., after the devastating tornadoes. Natural disasters occur every year. Rebuilding seems to be something the federal government does.
As a board member for the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association, you hear two main questions. The first one is, “Are you making a difference?”
The answer to this is yes. If we were not aggressively protecting our river interest, the negative impacts to agriculture would be tremendous. The second question is: “Why do you spend so much time on river issues?”
This can be answered in two words (and, this is partly personal): Next Generation. We are not just doing this for us. We are doing this for the future. For those of us along the river, it is our kids and grandkids who won’t be farming if we don’t make major changes in the way the Corps is running our rivers. I have a son named Matthew who just turned 15 and loves to farm. Hopefully, he can come back after college to farm full-time. I want to build a future in which he can farm with his attention focused on the challenges of growing crops rather than wondering if his land and way of life will fall victim to regulatory fiat.
For more information or to become a member of an active organization along the Missouri or the Mississippi Rivers, please contact Tom Waters, Chairman of the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association, at (816) 770-5562 or Dan Kuenzel, Association Board Member, at (636) 390-3156.