Reinvesting in our rivers: The nation's waterways infrastructure needs our attention

By:  Bob Casey

Our nation's locks and dams play a vital role in creating and sustaining jobs and supporting economic growth throughout the country.

The inland waterways system offers the most cost-competitive way to transport our commodities: 20 percent of the coal that is used to power our nation's electricity, much of it from Pennsylvania; 22 percent of our petroleum products; and more than 60 percent of export grain. The shippers who produce or manufacture these commodities are in danger of losing their competitive edge unless we focus on proper funding for the lock and dam infrastructure.

More than 200,000 jobs rely on a functional inland waterways system in southwestern Pennsylvania. It is critical that we maintain and upgrade infrastructure that allows for the continual use of waterways in the long term. This will protect jobs in the region and other jobs that the inland waterways system supports across the country.

That is why I introduced S. 407, the Reinvesting in Vital Economic Rivers and Waterways Act of 2013. The RIVER Act would establish a sustainable, cost-effective way to ensure that our inland and intracoastal waterways remain economically viable. This bill would modernize the inland waterways system, create jobs, relieve traffic congestion and optimize American competitiveness of the most low-cost, energy-efficient transportation mode.

The RIVER Act has a group of bipartisan co-sponsors, including Sens. Lamar Alexander, Amy Klobuchar, Mary Landrieu, Al Franken and Tom Harkin, who also recognize the importance of protecting our nation's locks and dams and ensuring that the inland waterways system remains an efficient and safe mode for the transport of commerce.

The Senate has begun work on the Water Resources Development Act of 2013, which provides for flood protection, safe drinking water and wastewater infrastructure and protects the flow of commerce along the rivers. I have pushed to include key provisions of the RIVER Act to be added to this, including project delivery reforms which will improve the Army Corps of Engineers project management process and help to deliver projects on time and on budget. Project prioritization reforms will create clear priorities for lock and dam projects and make sure the projects with the most economic benefits are completed first and that all undertaken projects are completed in a timely fashion. Additionally, an increase to the government's cost-share requirement on major rehabilitation will help to complete current projects and fund more in the future.

There is more work to be done, but the reforms I have secured in WRDA represent the best approach to meet the recognized needs for timely completion of critical navigation projects and sustainable funding for the future of our waterways. Most importantly, these reforms will channel more funding to the Lower Monongahela project and allow it to move forward. I am hopeful that the Senate will quickly pass WRDA and that the House will follow suit.

We can't squander the critical foundations that have made America what it is. Reinvesting in our nation's waterways will allow us to seize economic opportunities, remain competitive in the world and protect and create jobs for generations to come.