In the News

Congress expands vision of several projects on Upper Mississippi River

December 26, 2022   Dubuque Telegraph-Herald

View Source

Congress has come together to pass the Water Resources Development Act of 2022, the biennial federal authority legislation, with expansion and creation of several high-impact programs for the Upper Mississippi River.


The WRDA is always much-anticipated and significant to the tri-state region, according to Scott Gritters, fisheries biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, out of Bellevue.


“That’s where we get the funding from the long-term monitoring station in Bellevue,” he said. “It’s where we get many of our projects. The (Upper Mississippi River) Restoration program was a complete game-changer for the river.”


This year’s WRDA nearly doubled the funding authorization of the Upper Mississippi River Restoration program, from $40 million to $75 million — its biggest jump ever.


This program is the landmark environmental restoration and monitoring program on the river through the five northernmost states, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website.


Continuing the environmental restorations through this program are a top priority for the City of Dubuque, according to Teri Goodmann, the city’s director of strategic partnerships.


“Because we’re a river city, it’s very important that we understand the relationship between a healthy environment and things like flood protection, pollution control, etc.,” she said.


Allen Marshall, Corporate Communications Chief for the Army Corps’ Rock Island District, stressed WRDA’s importance, but also that it does not itself include funding.


“It authorizes the Secretary of the Army, through the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, to conduct studies, construct projects, and research various activities and development that can lead to improvements of rivers and harbors of the United States,” Marshall said in an email response. “WRDA legislation provides congressional intent and authorization to (the Army Corps of Engineers) on how to address critical water resources issues across the nation.”


This year’s WRDA also expedited the replacement of seven locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi by bolstering the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program with $829 million in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021.


In his weekly call with Iowa reporters, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said furthering the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program was the most important of numerous projects included in the WRDA.


“Traditionally, it’s not a very controversial piece of legislation,” he said. “There are a lot of Iowa projects in that bill.”


A joint release from Grassley and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, also highlighted the WRDA expanding a study of harmful algae blooms on the Upper Mississippi River — a study Gritters said was much-needed.


“In the middle of summer, we see these backwaters that are just covered in algae,” he said. “They’re getting so many nutrients going into the river. So, all the fish leave those areas.”


The WRDA includes both conservative and progressive priorities, as well. Grassley and Ernst highlighted a new reporting requirement for federally funded projects over $100 million or projects that are delayed. U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., highlighted WRDA’s creation of a federal advisory commission on environmental justice.