WATERWAYS AND WHY WE NEED THEM

Mississippi River, farmersJust as we use many forms of transportation to reach our final destination, whether it be for work, school, or a day in the city, so does the agriculture industry. This industry relies on many forms of transportation to deliver products to reach the ultimate destination: on shelves for consumers to buy. One of these important forms is water transportation. Products such as grain, biofuels and other important agriculture commodities are shipped via the waterways. In fact, in Illinois, we export about 41% of our corn, and the main method of shipping this commodity is on barges.

So why is this important? Well, just as our vehicles require maintenance from normal wear and tear, waterways need the same treatment. These locks and dams are designed to last approximately 50 years before requiring maintenance. Factors such as extreme weather can take a huge toll on these vital routes of transportation. Without proper care, outages occur, causing barges to reroute to an open lock and dam. This extended travel is not nearly as efficient, especially when there is high traffic traveling towards the same area.

 

Because millions of tons travel through locks and dams each year, it is crucial to understand the importance of the waterway system. Think about the train stations in one of our popular U.S. cities. If one of those train stations was not able to operate and bring people to their destination on a regular basis, then all those passengers would have to find means of transportation elsewhere, likely another station in the city. This leads to increased crowds and potentially long wait times for trains because the flow of traffic is much higher with one less operating train station. This is essentially the issue our locks and dams are facing with the waterways. Agriculture relies heavily on all forms of transportation to carry goods, and when one or more outages occur on the waterways, it impacts agriculture exports and the economic benefits this industry provide for our country.

So how can we help fix this issue? One of the most important things we as consumers can do is stay up to date with news and data shared about this significant issue. Without education, it becomes tough to understand these key issues and how we as consumers are impacted. Check credible sources, such as USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) or the Waterways Council on a regular basis for updates on issues such as this one. The more educated we are, the better equipped we are to advocate and help solves important problems.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

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