Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP)

The Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) is a long-term program of navigation improvements and ecological restoration for the Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS) that will be implemented incremently over a 50-year period through integrated, adaptive management.

The primary opportunities are to reduce commercial traffic delays while restoring, protecting, and enhancing the environment. The primary goal is implementation of an integrated, dual-purpose plan to ensure the economic and environmental sustainability of the UMRS.

NESP does not directly affect authorization and funding of other programs addressing the needs of the UMRS, but management of NESP will be integrated with the management of other programs to enhance efficiency and effectiveness across programs.

Program Status

The Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program received funding in the FY18 ($1M) and FY20 ($4.5M) Work Plans.  Funding in FY18 was used for an Economic Update.  The economic update was specifically focused on the Navigation features of NESP, and was completed in December 2019.  Execution of the FY21 funds is underway and is focused on advancing Pre-construction Engineering and Design (PED) efforts for both the navigation and ecosystem projects.

No construction funds for any NESP project have ever been appropriated. If funded, construction of ecosystem restoration projects and small-scale navigation projects could start within the first year following receipt of construction funds.

FY21 Work Plan Focus Projects

NESP is construction ready awaiting a construction new start. USACE Rock Island District received a total of $5.0M in Investigations funding in the FY21 Work Plan for continuation of Pre-Construction Engineering and Design (PED) activities - $2.625M for Navigation projects and $2.375M for Ecosystem projects.  Funding will be used to advance projects to a construction-ready status.  One additional project, Lock 22 Fish Passage will complete feasibility and achieve a 35% level of design. 


  • Lock 25 Lockwall Modifications
  • Lock 14 Mooring Cell
  • Moore’s Towhead Systemic Mitigation


  • Pool 2 Wingdam Notching
  • Starved Rock Habitat Restoration and Enhancement
  • Twin Islands Island Protection and Enhancement
  • Alton Pool Island Protection and Side Channel Restoration

Program Information

Program Elements

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The UMR-IWW 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. More than 40 percent of North America’s migratory waterfowl and shorebirds depend on the food resources and other life requisites (e.g., shelter, nesting habitats, etc.) that the system provides. These Trust Species and the threatened and endangered species in the region are the focus of considerable federal wildlife management activities. In the middle and southern portions of the basin, the habitat provided by these rivers represents the most important and abundant habitat in the region for many species.

The diversity and abundance of native aquatic plants and animals are seriously threatened by degradation, loss of habitat and the arrival of several exotic species. Ecosystem restoration endeavors have had positive localized influence on species diversity, abundance and their ability to cope with new exotic invaders. The adaptive systemic approach authorized for this program would address these issues in a manner and on a scale necessary to ensure long-term ecological health and sustainability.

The 85+ year-old navigation system continues to experience some of the longest lockage delays in the country due to single, undersized 600’ lock chambers (most tows are 1,200 feet in length), and downtime for repair of aged gates and machinery. The existing locks and dams were constructed in the 1930s and 1940s with 600-foot locks. Current lock delays average 4-5 hours. Lack of funding for lock and dam rehabilitation and major maintenance activities in recent years has increased the risk of component failures and lock closures.

The June 2012 Institute for Water Resources report on U.S. Port and Inland Waterway Modernization found that the Upper Mississippi River - Illinois Waterway (UMR-IWW) navigation system has adequate capacity through 2020, but will require maintenance of existing capacity. Although the UMR-IWW tonnage has decreased over the last decade, this trend is expected to reverse due to increased demand for grain exports and enlargement of the Panama Canal. A long-term strategy is essential for maintaining reliable and cost effective inland navigation. Inland navigation is estimated to save $23.74 per ton compared to overland transportation (Planning Center for Expertise for Inland Navigation, 31 January 2012). The estimated savings for the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway based on 2010 tonnage values would be $1.44 billion and $0.86 billion, respectively.

The UMR-IWW system is recognized worldwide as a destination for boating, camping, hunting, fishing and numerous other recreational opportunities. There are more than 580 manufacturing facilities, terminals, grain elevators, and docks that ship and receive tonnage in the Upper Mississippi River basin. Additionally, there are hundreds of small and large businesses, water treatment and hydropower facilities, and nuclear plants that depend on the river system for their operational needs.