For more than a decade, I’ve been honored to represent a central Illinois district that includes hundreds of miles of shoreline along the Illinois River. The 18th District is also home to two sets of Illinois River locks in dire need of repair: the lock and dam here in Peoria and the LaGrange Lock and Dam near Meredosia.
Issues concerning all of our state’s rivers—not just the Illinois—have long been one of my legislative priorities. Lock and dam improvements, the Comprehensive Plan for Flood Control, sedimentation, and environmental concerns all have been issues I’ve worked on as a former member of the Transportation Committee and currently as a member of the House Appropriations Committee. Flooding in the Illinois River Valley is a fact of life on an almost annual basis, and I’ve worked for many years with local, state, and federal officials to address flooding issues.
Over the past decade, we’ve had some successes. The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which conserves marginal farmland in the Illinois River Valley, and the recent Mud-to-Parks initiative, dredging Peoria Lakes sediment and using it for a park in Chicago, are just two highlights.
The importance of improving our navigational system and our ecological system, as well as creating a comprehensive plan to deal with catastrophic flooding—all issues pending before Congress—can’t be overstated. We can’t formulate answers to these river issues separately from each other. From transporting commodities to market to providing wonderful recreational opportunities, our entire region, with the Upper Mississippi, the Illinois, and the Missouri rivers, relies upon waterways to help drive the economic engine of the upper Midwest. If this region looks forward to a healthy economic future, we can’t afford to turn our back on the problems that confront these waterways today and the potential problems that face us in the future.
I’ve been a vocal supporter of the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway (UMR-IWW) improvements, and I’m pleased to see the Senate included more than $3.5 billion in authorization for this plan under the Water Resources Development Act of 2005. Included in the bill’s funding are the vital repairs to the two locks on the Illinois River at Peoria and LaGrange. There are many constituency groups behind this effort, and I’m hopeful both the House and the Senate can pass a long-overdue reauthorization of WRDA this year.
At the same time, though, we need to ensure the UMR-IWW plan incorporates the Comprehensive Plan for Flood Control; to that end, Congress needs to provide funding to complete that study. This plan is a long-overdue analysis of what needs to be done to prepare for flooding, especially the type of catastrophic flooding that occurred in 1993. The House-passed version of the Fiscal Year 2006 Energy and Water Appropriations contains $200,000 for the plan, which should provide enough funding for completion. I’ll continue to work throughout the summer and fall to ensure this funding is in the final version of the bill. I’ll also continue to work with the Corps to ensure these two plans are put together in a compatible fashion.
A variety of groups, including many in central Illinois, are working on issues to enhance our region’s waterways, and I’d like to thank all of those groups for their hard work over the years. Keep up the good work, and I’ll continue to be an advocate for these issues. IBI