Durbin Announces Senate Approval of His Legislation to Improve Mississippi River Management and Extreme Weather Response

Legislation, included as part of the Senate Water Resources Development Act, authorizes a study of the entire Mississippi River Basin

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today announced that his legislation to bolster efforts to maintain commercial river traffic during droughts and floods was approved by the U.S. Senate as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2013.

Specifically, the legislation would authorize a study of the entire Mississippi River Basin, for the first time ever, in order to help better understand how the Basin functions as a system and how it can best be managed in order to maintain safe and reliable navigation and protect lives and property, especially during times of severe flooding and drought.

“After coming so close to economic catastrophe earlier this year when we faced historic low water levels on the Mississippi River, and now facing severe flooding in parts of the state, it is clear that we need to be better prepared for extreme weather events that are becoming more frequent and more severe,” said Durbin.  “Including this legislation in today’s Water Resources Development Act will help make government and businesses that rely on the Mississippi River more prepared for the next flood or drought that threatens jobs and economic activity in Illinois and throughout the country.”

Low Mississippi River water levels in late 2012 and early 2013 threatened the massive movement of goods – including grain, chemicals, coal, and oil – along the river which is critical to America’s economy.  In response, Durbin authored the Mississippi River Navigation Sustainment Act and in March introduced it with U.S. Representative Bill Enyart (D-IL-12) and U.S. Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL-7).  The bill seeks to maintain the critical movement of goods on the Mississippi River during periods of extreme weather through better Corps water management procedures, improved river forecasting, more flexibility for the Corps of Engineers to respond, and more effective environmental management.

“As Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, I saw firsthand how unpredictable the Mississippi can be, and that's why I am committed to ensuring that Southern Illinois is equipped with the flexibility and resources we need to respond to drought or flooding,” said Enyart.  “The Mississippi River is vital to good jobs and strong and healthy communities in Southern Illinois so I am pleased the Senate has acted on this important and bipartisan proposal and I urge the House of Representatives to put common-sense first, and do the right thing for Southern Illinois and pass this Bill.” 


“When commerce stops on the Mississippi River, it comes at the cost of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs,” said Davis.  “That’s why it is absolutely crucial that we upgrade the navigation along the Mississippi River and better prepare ourselves for extreme weather events like the droughts from last summer or the floods from this spring. I’d like to thank Senator Durbin for working to include this important provision in the Water Resources Development Act, and look forward to working with Representative Enyart and my colleagues in the House to see it into law.”


The Mississippi River Navigation Sustainment Act would enhance the ability he Army Corps of Engineers and private industry to respond quickly to extreme weather events and to maintain navigation despite low water or flooding by:


  • Authorizing a Greater Mississippi River Basin Severe Flooding and Drought Management Study – The legislation would authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study of how to better coordinate management of the entire Mississippi River Basin – the third largest watershed in the world.  The study will help improve coordination of management of the entire system and will evaluate the feasibility of making modifications to how we currently manage the Basin. 


  • Improving tools used for Mississippi River Forecasting – In the recent low water event, some manual river gauges (often painted lines on bridges) were rendered useless making surveying and dredging more difficult. This bill would add additional automated gauges and increase the use of other forecasting tools.  Through better and more reliable information, the Corps will be better able to conduct activities to maintain navigation and industry in Illinois and all up and down the Mississippi River will be able to make more informed business decisions;


  • Expanding Flexibility for Army Corps of Engineers: Current law prevents the Corps from maintaining areas outside of the authorized channel. The legislation would grant greater authority to the Corps to provide sufficient depths in fleeting areas and conduct other limited activities when it’s necessary to maintaining safe and reliable navigation.  This new authority will help especially during periods of low water; and


  • Creating an Environmental Pilot Program: This bill will create an environmental management pilot program for the middle Mississippi River.  This will enable the Corps to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat in the middle Mississippi River as they conduct navigation projects.