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Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program History

Transportation, boating, fishing, and myriad other business and recreational uses of the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway (UMR-IWW) provide approximately $1 billion dollars annually in net benefits to the nation's economy. Equally important is the high environmental value these rivers provide the nation. Balancing these combined, and sometimes conflicting, factors make managing the river system challenging, with many individuals and organizations championing great and varying interests.

In view of these considerations, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted the Upper Mississippi River - Illinois Waterway System Navigation Feasibility Study to determine the best way to manage the UMRS in a manner which balances economic, environmental, social, and political needs. This study took a systems approach, since changes in one part of the system may have an impact elsewhere in the system.

Under the study, the Rock Island District, St. Louis District and St. Paul District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers investigated the feasibility of navigation improvements to eight locks and 348 miles of the Illinois Waterway and 29 locks and 854 miles of the Upper Mississippi River. The feasibility of ecosystem enhancement and restoration on both rivers was also investigated.

The study determined the location and appropriate sequencing of any needed navigation improvements and ecosystem projects on the two rivers and prioritized these capital investments for the first half of the next century. The study also included a system-wide environmental assessment leading to the completion of a system Environmental Impact Statement. 

The Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program began with the Reconnaissance Study phase of the Upper Mississippi River - Illinois Waterway System Navigation Study as two separate Reconnaissance studies – one for the Illinois Waterway and one for the Upper Mississippi River. The studies began in November 1989 and April 1990, respectively, focusing on determining where the major constraints of the waterways were and making a preliminary determination of benefits and costs derived from structural or non-structural improvements to the waterways. This benefit-cost analysis was done to determine if there was a federal interest in pursuing more detailed Feasibility studies.

Public scoping meetings were held in January 1990 permitting ideas and concerns to be voiced by state, federal and local agencies, special interest groups, and the public. Those concerns were incorporated into the Reconnaissance Studies under the various economic, engineering, and environmental elements.

The completed Reconnaissance studies determined there was a federal interest in pursuing the more-detailed Feasibility studies. Headquarters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided that combining the two Reconnaissance studies into a single, system Feasibility Study would save time and resources. The Upper Mississippi River - Illinois Waterway System Navigation Feasibility Study was initiated in April 1993 to further study and refine improvements to the waterways and to assess and the economic and technical aspects of the plans.
 
The study addressed the potential economic losses to the nation for significant traffic delays at locks on the commercial navigation system between the years 2000 and 2050. On the Mississippi River, the study area extended from Minneapolis-St. Paul downstream to the confluence of the Ohio River. On the Illinois Waterway, the study area extended from Grafton, Ill., upstream to the Thomas J. O'Brien Lock in Chicago. It included 37 locks (29 on the Upper Mississippi River and eight on the Illinois Waterway) and approximately 1,200 miles of navigable waterway within portions of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
 
As part of the original study scope, the Rock Island District, St. Louis District and St. Paul District of the then North Central Division; and the New Orleans District of the Mississippi Valley Division were only investigating the feasibility of navigation improvements on the Upper Mississippi River and the Illinois Waterway. The study was restructured in 2001 to also seek long-term sustainability of the economic uses and ecological integrity of the system. The study restructuring addressed the ongoing cumulative effects of navigation and ecosystem restoration needs, with a goal of attaining an environmentally sustainable navigation system, in addition to ensuring an efficient transportation system for the future. These study changes were made in consideration of the recommendations of the National Research Council and based on input from a federal agency task force. The refocused study emphasized the nation’s need to sustain both a quality ecosystem and an effective navigation system. The redirection ensured that any recommended improvements would meet both objectives.
 
The principal navigation problem addressed by the study was the potential for significant traffic delays on the UMR-IWW Navigation System within the 50-year planning horizon. The principal environmental problems addressed by the study were changes to ecosystem structure and function that have occurred since initiation of the operation and maintenance of the existing 9-Foot Channel Navigation Project.
 
The primary opportunities were to reduce or eliminate commercial traffic delays and improve the national and regional economic conditions while restoring, protecting and enhancing the environment. The goal of the feasibility study was to outline an integrated plan to ensure the economic and environmental sustainability of the UMR-IWW Navigation System to ensure it continued to be a nationally treasured ecological resource as well as an efficient national transportation system as designated by Congress in the 1986 Water Resources Development Act (Public Law 99-662).
 
The Upper Mississippi River & Illinois Waterway System Navigation Feasibility Study was completed in September 2004 after more than 14 years of intensive study, evaluation and controversy. The resulting study’s final recommendation includes a program of incremental implementation and comprehensive adaptive management to achieve the dual purposes of ecosystem restoration and navigation improvements.
 
The Chief’s Report was signed on December 15, 2004, by Lt. General Carl Strock, commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The signed Chief’s Report was transmitted to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, ASA (CW), along with the final Integrated Feasibility Report and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and Draft Record of Decision.
 
Congress authorized the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act at $2.2 billion for navigation improvements and $1.72 billion for ecosystem restoration, with an additional $10 million per year for monitoring.
 
The authorization allows the Corps to construct small-scale navigation improvements costing $256,000,000; seven new 1,200-foot lock chambers costing $1,948,000,000; and ecosystem and habitat restoration costing $1,717,000,000. It will take at least 15 - 20 years of efficient funding to implement NESP to be able to construct the navigation and ecosystem projects to improve the ecosystem and navigation system.

The congressionally authorized program for the UMR-IWW System consists of the following features:

  • Construction of small-scale and nonstructural measures consisting of mooring facilities at Locks 12, 14, 18, 20, 22, and LaGrange or other alternative locations that are economically and environmentally feasible; providing switchboats at locks 20 through 25; and conducting development and testing of an appointment scheduling system.
  • Construction of new 1,200-foot locks at Locks 20, 21, 22, 24, and 25 on the Upper Mississippi River and at LaGrange Lock and Peoria Lock on the Illinois Waterway.
  • Mitigation to be undertaken or acquired concurrently with land and interests in lands for the small-scale measures and new locks.
  • Implementation of ecosystem restoration projects including island building; fish passages; floodplain restoration; water level management; backwater restoration; side channel restoration; wing dam and dike restoration and modification; island and shore protection; topographical diversity; dam point control; use of dredged material for environmental purposes; tributary confluence restoration; spillway, dam, and levee modification to benefit the environment; and land and easement acquisition.
  • Monitoring and adaptive management for ecosystem restoration.