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

Rock Island District
Published Oct. 1, 2021
Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program logo

Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program logo


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 seven new 1,200-foot locks, mooring cells, and switchboat implementation.

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.

Congressional Support

A Bipartisan coalition of 52 congressionals reaffirmed their support in October 2020 for a construction new start for NESP which has immediate construction readiness that will establish long-term job creation in creating much needed lock modernization and ecological resilience.

Key Takeaways

  • NESP is ready for construction.  Upon the receipt of a construction new start, NESP will have navigation and ecosystem projects under construction within 6 months. The large-scale priority projects - Lock 25 1200’ lock and Lock 22 fish passage will be ready for construction within 1 year upon receipt of sufficient funding and will take 3-5 years to construct. 
  • The NESP navigation projects will significantly improve our ability to export greater than 60% of the Nations corn and soybean products to world markets. Enhancing the reliability and capacity of the 7 highest-use and most delayed locks on the Upper Mississippi River System through NESP ensures that the most environmentally-conscious and safe method of transporting bulk commodities will continue for the next generation.
  • The Nationally-significant UMRS ecosystem will realize immediate benefits in the form of increased access, quality and distribution of critical habitat features. Adaptive management will leverage scientific innovation and testing to increase both efficiency and effectiveness of ecosystem projects. The UMR-IWW ecosystem supports 25% of North America’s fish species and is a flyway for 40% of North America’s migratory waterfowl and shorebirds.


  • FY 2021: $5M received in the Work Plan. Funding was used to continue PED activities, ready projects for construction, and develop the program.   

Additional Information


GI - General Investigations - Title VIII of WRDA 2007

Summarized Project Costs




Estimated Federal Cost



Estimated Non-Federal Cost



Estimated Total Project Cost



Allocations Prior to FY 2022



FY 2021 Allocation



FY 2022 Allocation



FY 2022 President’s Budget



FY 2022 Total Capability




Major Work Item Prior Fiscal Year:

FY 2021: Continued PED efforts for both the navigation and ecosystem projects. The navigation focus project was at Lock 25, specifically a project that will modify the existing lock wall to prepare the wall for the future 1200’ lock.  Additional projects include the Lock 14 mooring cell and Moore’s Towhead systemic mitigation.  The ecosystem focus project was Twin Island Shoreline Protection.  Additional projects include Pool 2 Wingdam Modifications, Starved Rock Habitat Restoration, Alton Pool Habitat Restoration, and Lock 22 Fish Passage. 

Major Work Item Current Year:

FY 2022: If investigations funds are received, the Lock 25 1200’ lock and Lock and Dam 22 fish passage project designs will be advanced along with other small-scale ecosystem and navigation projects.  If a construction new start is received, multiple construction contracts will be awarded for the construction-ready projects shown in the image above, and designs will be advanced for other priority navigation and ecosystem projects.