Rushville-Sugar Lake Levee Photo (copy)

Politicians aren’t shy about making their feelings known on issues ranging from the deadly serious (war and taxes) to the trivial (Nancy Pelosi’s haircut.)

It’s always come as a surprise that the rhetoric out of Congress isn’t more forceful regarding management of the Missouri River. Those who farm, work or live along the river must be wondering how 535 elected officials became shrinking violets, especially since the current occupant of the White House isn’t exactly an environmentalist or defender of endangered species.

So it was refreshing to see two elected officials from Missouri, Sen. Roy Blunt and Rep. Sam Graves, lead the charge in advocating for funding to improve commercial navigation on the Missouri River. The two congressmen pushed for a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that seeks additional funding for projects that will improve safety and navigation.

“Currently, there is a critically dire situation related to navigation challenges in several areas along the Missouri River where serious barge traffic accidents have occurred and commercial activity has nearly come to an abrupt halt as we enter harvest season in the Midwest,” the members of Congress wrote.

Others signing the letter included Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, as well House members from several states.

Their advocacy comes at a critical time. Farmers and businesses rely on the river to transport goods, a need that hasn’t diminished following the damage and reduced navigation resulting from the 2019 flood. The need for reliable barge traffic becomes even greater this time of year during the farm harvest.

The Corps of Engineers Kansas City District received around $20 million for emergency supplemental repairs. It sounds like plenty, but the need may be closer to $200 million in order to make the lower Missouri River fully navigable.

There’s growing concern that parts of the river may be closed to navigation due to the notched wing dikes and revetments increasing sedimentation and making the channel too shallow for navigation. This is where congressional funding requests run into conflict with the more long-term priorities of the Corps of Engineers, which has promoted endangered species to the detriment of navigation and commercial interests.

The letter from Graves, Blunt and others won’t change this dynamic overnight, but it is a step in the right direction. After watching the Corps of Engineers take the river in a direction that harms agriculture and commercial interests, it’s time for Congress to step in and reset priorities.