A federal bill that usually doesn’t get much recognition is in dire need of reauthorization by Congress. The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) was last renewed in 2000. This is the legislation that authorizes civil works programs carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Water Resources bill is of vital importance to our area due to its importance to our transportation system, as well as helping to conserve the natural resources of our state. Previous WRDAs followed a loosely biennial schedule; however, the most recent version of the bill has been stalled for several years due to inaction in the U.S. Senate. The House passed its version of the reauthorization in July 2005. In contrast, the Senate has had a WRDA bill on its calendar since April 2005 but has yet to take action on the bill because of a few senators’ objections to the bill.
Both the Peoria lock and dam and the LaGrange lock and dam are in need of repair. I’ve visited these aging structures and have witnessed firsthand the deteriorating concrete and outdated machinery of these important cogs in our nation’s waterway system. I’ve seen the delay that barges must endure because the length of these locks is too small to accommodate today’s shipping needs. The Illinois River carries a tremendous amount of the nation’s commercial traffic via barges. Corn, coal, and other commodities are carried from Illinois to destinations around the world through this great transportation resource, but we’re quickly falling behind other countries that are upgrading their waterway systems.
The other important aspect of WRDA is the emphasis on environmental projects throughout the Illinois and Mississippi watersheds.
Since my first election, I’ve made the Illinois River one of my top priorities. We’ve worked on establishing the Illinois Rivers 2020 program. We’ve invested millions of dollars in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to stem the erosion of soil into the basin and to make our water cleaner. We’ve worked with communities along the banks of the river to bring people back to this great resource by creating greater access and recreational opportunities. We’ve worked with conservation groups—along with federal, state, and local agencies—to enhance the basin’s wildlife areas.
This version of WRDA would lay the groundwork for a long-term ecosystem restoration plan of the Illinois and Upper Mississippi waterways. At the same time, it would jump-start the process of rehabilitating the aging lock system. Until we get this bill signed into law, though, these projects remain on the back burner.
This bill is a win-win for our area. Our transportation infrastructure gets a much-needed rehabilitation through a modernized lock system. At the same time, the natural resource jewel of our state, the Illinois River, will benefit from an infusion of projects aimed at protecting this watershed.
I encourage everyone to contact our senators in an effort to get this bill passed. It’s well past time that this bill should be signed into law. IBI