House bill includes construction funding for the Navigation Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) 

A House appropriations subcommittee on July 12 approved spending legislation that includes $22.5 million in construction funding for the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP).

The vast majority of locks on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway (UMR-IWW) were built in the 1930s and 1940s with 600-foot chambers, having long-surpassed their design life. NESP would expand the navigation capacity along the UMR-IWW through the construction of seven new 1,200-foot locks and dams. If achieved, the new and modernized NESP locks would allow a 15-barge tow to pass through in just one lockage, increasing efficiency and boosting U.S. competitiveness. 

“Many farmers and businesses in Illinois and Iowa rely on the UMRS to ship crops or goods to market, but America’s competitiveness in foreign markets shrinks each year without a new start,” according to a press release issued by Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa., after the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development approved its Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) funding bill. “NESP provides the opportunity to address these reliability issues, protect this infrastructure from catastrophic failure and provide roughly 10,000 construction jobs over the lifetime of the program, which is about 20 years of construction.”

Congress authorized NESP in 2007, but the program has not received any construction funding. That could change this year after NGFA and Waterways Council, Inc. successfully worked with Reps. Bustos, Hinson, Sam Graves, R-Mo., the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., to submit a request for this construction funding. 

Lawmakers submitted the request through the House’s new “Community Project Funding” (CPF) system that allows members of Congress to direct spending toward certain priority projects provided they meet  transparency and vetting requirements. CPF requests are similar to the earmark process that Congress scuttled a decade ago which effectively ceded funding decisions to government agencies instead of elected representatives. 

The full Appropriations Committee is expected to consider and favorably report this legislation to the House floor later this morning (July 16). Overall, the legislation includes $8.66 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, a nearly 15 percent increase from what the agency received for FY 2021. Also, due to NGFA-supported improvements made in the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, the bill includes an estimated $2.05 billion for Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund projects to dredge U.S. ports -- an increase of more than 20 percent from FY 2021.

An identical version of this legislation still must pass the House and Senate and be signed by the president before funding can be realized. 

Notably, Lock and Dam 25 on the Upper Mississippi River is listed in the top tier of priority projects in the Army Corps’ of Engineers’ 2020 Capital Investment Strategy. Bustos and Hinson have brought attention to the importance of Lock and Dam 25, noting that an unplanned closure of Lock 25 alone would result in a $1.57 billion loss to the economy.