Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program Purpose

The purpose of the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program is to improve efficiency and capacity of this nationally significant Upper Mississippi River – Illinois Waterway (UMR-IWW) navigation system while protecting preserving and enhancing the structure, diversity and function of this nationally significant ecosystem. This multi-use resource supports an extensive navigation system (made up of 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 1986, Congress declared the Upper Mississippi River System “a nationally significant ecosystem and a nationally significant commercial navigation system.” The same waters that transport more than 60 percent of America’s corn and soybeans are home to 25 percent of North America’s fish species and are globally important as a flyway for 40 percent of North America’s migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. However, both the river transportation system and the river ecosystem are deteriorating.

The locks that help tows navigate the Mississippi and Illinois rivers are antiquated – increasing costs, safety risks and lost market opportunities. From an ecological perspective, the floodplain is degraded, islands are eroded, backwaters are filled and the rivers’ natural flows have been disrupted.

Investment in small scale navigation efficiency projects, new locks, and ecosystem restoration projects will help ensure that the UMR-IWW remains a functioning, living and thriving river system.