A new report card ranking the vitality of the Mississippi Watershed underscores the critical need for improvements, especially related to the state’s transportation infrastructure and maintenance. The report card also echoes the Illinois Soybean Growers’ (ISG) statewide efforts to find infrastructure solutions.
The report, issued Oct. 14 by America’s Watershed Initiative, ranks six broad goals for the Mississippi Watershed and the 250 rivers that feed into it. Overall, the watershed received a D+.
Results for transportation infrastructure were particularly troubling, reflecting the aging system of locks and dams that suffer from inadequate maintenance funding. While the report card indicated lock delays were not an issue, freight movement on the river is solely dependent on a functioning infrastructure system.
“Our state has more than 1,100 miles of navigable waterways. This transportation channel is critical to Illinois farmers’ success and to our competitiveness in the global marketplace,” says Paul Rasmussen, ISG director and soybean farmer from Genoa, Ill.
ISG staff and farmer directors have been at the forefront of a collaborative effort analyzing alternative solutions to ensure waterways continue to be a viable option in moving soybeans from farms into export position at the Gulf of Mexico.
“We are working with numerous entities to find innovative solutions for the very problems reflected in the report card,” says Mike Levin, ISG director of issues management. “Specifically, we are working closely with industry and government collaborators to facilitate a public-private partnership (P3) for infrastructure improvements on the eight locks and dams on the Illinois Waterway.”
A P3 could address the long-term reliability of the waterway and provide a funding mechanism for millions of dollars of back-logged maintenance and rehabilitation projects.
“This is a great opportunity to strengthen the Illinois Waterway, and, in turn, America’s Watershed. This vital river system provides drinking water, recreation and habitat and is an economic engine for our state and the rest of our country,” says Rasmussen. “When inland waterway navigation is responsible for moving about 60 percent of our soybeans to global shipping facilities, we need dependable infrastructure on our side.”
ISG represents more than 43,000 soybean farmers in Illinois through the state soybean checkoff and membership efforts. The checkoff funds market development, soybean production and profitability research, promotion, issues management and analysis, communications and education. Membership and advocacy efforts support Illinois soybean farmers’ interests in local areas, Springfield and Washington, D.C. ISG programs are designed to ensure Illinois soy is the highest quality, most dependable, sustainable and competitive in the global marketplace. For more information, visit the website www.ilsoy.org.