US Army Corps of Engineers
Rock Island District

District Projects

Upper Mississippi River -Illinois Waterway System Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP)

Published March 8, 2019

Point of Contact:
Regional Program Manager
Phone: 309-794-5593

Upper Midwest - Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin

NESP is a long-term program of ecosystem restoration and navigation improvements for the Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS). NESP will improve system capacity and reduce commercial traffic delays through construction of 7 new 1,200-foot locks, mooring cells and switchboat implementation. 

A USDA September 2016 report states that “Aggregate economic activity related to grain barge transportation reduce $933 million (or 40 percent decrease) if Lock 25 is closed from September to November. The reduction reaches to nearly $2 billion if the lock is unavailable for the marketing year” and “Decline in economics surplus in the corn and soybean sector due to Lock 25 closure could cause a decrease of more than 7,000 jobs, $1.3 billion of labor income and about $2.4 billion of economic activity (total industry output) annually.” Inland navigation is estimated to save $26.17/ton compared to overland transportation (2015 costs). The estimated annual saving on the UMRS is over $3 billion (based on 2015 traffic). The long-term traffic is expected to increase due to Panama Canal expansion and changes in world markets. Additionally, NESP will restore the ecosystem by implementing projects for island building, floodplain restoration, water level management, backwater restoration, side channel restoration, wing dam restoration/modification and island/shoreline protection.

The UMRS supports an extensive navigation system (1,200 miles of 9 foot channel and 37 lock and dam sites), a diverse ecosystem (2.7 million acres), floodplain agriculture, recreation and tourism. In WRDA 1986 (Sec. 1103) and WRDA 2014 (Sec. 4002), the UMRS was declared a “nationally significant ecosystem and a nationally significant commercial navigation system.”

The UMRS transports more than 60 percent of America’s corn and soybeans, is home to 25 percent of North America’s fish species, and is a globally important flyway for 40 percent of North America’s migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. The UMRS ecosystem consists of 2.7 million acres of bottomland forest, islands, backwaters, side channels and wetlands, all of which support more than 300 bird species, 57 mammal species, 45 amphibian and reptile species, 150 fish species and nearly 50 mussel species. The diversity and abundance of native aquatic plants and animals are being impacted by degradation, loss of habitat and the arrival of several exotic species.

The existing locks and dams were constructed in the 1930's and experience significant delays due to the single 600-foot lock chambers, which require the 1,200 foot tows to “double lock”. On the UMRS, there is only one lock chamber at 35 of 37 sites. The new 1,200-foot locks will increase system reliability and would dramatically decrease lockage times. Additionally, the new 1,200 foot locks will eliminate the single point of failure of having only one lock. If a major lock component breaks, it has the potential to cause a lock closure and stop all inland navigation traffic. The 1,200 foot lock will also eliminate double lockages and provide an additional chamber to ensure navigation traffic can continue to flow even during major repairs.

Each NESP project completed will deliver incremental benefits. For instance, a mooring cell will save between 5 and 15 minutes per lockage, will improve safety and reduce shoreline erosion because tows will no longer be waiting on the shoreline. If the time savings per lockage is 5 minutes, it is estimated that ‘payback’ could be nearly $300,000/year through reduced wait times and improved lockage times.

NESP will have phased implementation over 15 - 25+ years using adaptive management to guide future work. The economic analysis and cost estimate need to be updated in order to be included in the President's budget. The economic analysis will update the project benefit-to-cost (B:C) ratio in order to allow the ASA(CW) to recommend the project to OMB and will address the 2008 issues such as including additional sensitivity analysis and better define the adaptive management processes used to determine the threshold at which increased traffic justifies new locks.

The Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) was authorized in WRDA 2007 (Title VIII), to construct small-scale navigation improvements  (mooring cells and switchboats), seven (7) new 1200-foot lock chambers and ecosystem/habitat restoration.

NESP was last included in the President's budget in 2004 for completion of the feasibility study. Funding was appropriated from 2005 to 2010 by Congressional action and was used to conduct preconstruction engineering and design (PED) work on navigation and ecosystem projects. The latest cost estimate and economic analysis were prepared in 2008. NESP requires an economics and cost estimate update to comply with policy and be included in the President's budget for construction funding.

In November 2017, 40 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter of support for NESP to Mr. Mulvaney, Director, Office of Management and Budget and subsequently in December 2017, 10 senators also sent a letter of support to Mr. Mulvaney. This shows the strong support of NESP which will create jobs, provide economic relief to America’s farmers, and would allow USACE to “turn dirt” and generate near-term economic benefit by alleviating existing and future lock congestion through combination of small scale and large scale measures Authorized in WRDA 2007.

FY18 Work Plan funding in the amount of $1M was received to start and complete an economic update.  This update must be completed in a 1 year timeframe.

GI - General Investigations - Title VIII of WRDA 2007

Summarized Project Costs

Estimated Federal Cost   $5,218,850,900
Estimated Non-Federal Cost  $205,887,200
Estimated Total Project Cost $5,424,738,100
Allocations Prior to FY 2019   $63,082,875
FY 2019 Allocation  $0


Major Work Item Current Year
FY 2019: FY18 Workplan funding in the amount of $1 million was committed to complete an economic update for the UMR-IWW Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) within a 1 year timeframe.  This effort will focus on five key economic drivers of interest to decision makers: engineering reliability, forecasted barge traffic demands, barge transportation demand elasticity, transportation rates and lock performance characteristics.   Using this information to inform the economic update will hopefully allay investment concerns, allowing the implementation stage of this program to be included in the future budget submissions.