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

Published March 11, 2020

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. 

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 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: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 April 2019, 51 members of Congress sent a support letter to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development urging USACE to move forward with NESP Preconstruction Engineering and Design (PED).  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.
An economic update was completed in FY 2019.  PED activities are now advancing with $4.5M in FY20 Investigation funds.  Work will concentrate on completing designs for 1-2 projects for each business line to ensure they are ready for construction contract awards.

Additional Information

Congressional Interest
Senators: Charles Grassley (IA), Joni Ernst (IA), Richard Durbin (IL), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Tina Smith (MN), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Roy Blunt (MO), Joshua Hawley (MO), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Ron Johnson (WI)

Representatives: IA-2 (Dave Loebsack), IA-3 (Cynthia Axne), IA-4 (Steve King), IL-11(Bill Foster), IL-13 (Rodney Davis), IL-16 (Adam Kinzinger), IL-17 (Cheri Bustos), IL-18 (Darin LaHood), IL-3 (Dan Lipinski), MN-1 (Jim Hagedorn), MO-6 (Sam Graves), WI-3 (Ron Kind)
GI - General Investigations - Title VIII of WRDA 2007

Summarized Project Costs

Estimated Federal Cost   $5,775,007,647
Estimated Non-Federal Cost  $227,287,560
Estimated Total Project Cost $5,909,476,560
Allocations Prior to FY 2020  $60,818,647
FY 2020 Allocation  $4,500,000
FY 2020 Total Capability $7,500,000


Major Work Item Current Year: 

FY 2020: Planned actions include restating the Lock 25 and LaGrange 1200’ lock designs, completion of multiple mooring cell designs, and ecosystem projects.