Arkansas Waterways To Get Boost From Federal Water Legislation

May 23, 2014

A map of ports in Arkansas

Now that Congress has overwhelmingly passed a water resources bill, which awaits President Obama’s signature, officials who oversee Arkansas’s navigable waterways say infrastructure along the state’s rivers will likely benefit. All members of the state’s congressional delegation supported the legislation.

The bill opens up more funds under the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which goes to fund Army Corps of Engineers projects around the country. Gene Higginbotham of the Arkansas Waterways Commission says the freed up money may allow the Corps to conduct a 3 rivers study, at the confluence of the White, Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers. He says the study would look at long-term solutions to the problem of high water on the Mississippi.

“When that happens, the White River really has no place to go,” he says. “Water always tries to find a way to get where it’s going. And so what will happen is the White River will cut across an island into the lower Arkansas river.”

Higginbotham notes that this is a natural tendency of the river.

“What’s kind of happening in that area is you see the White River and Arkansas River trying to come together. If that happens we actually lose that navigation pool.”

Higginbotham says a lost navigation pool in that area would severely limit barge traffic on which the state’s agriculture and manufacturing industries rely. Higginbotham says the Army Corps of Engineers already spends between 1 and 10 million dollars a year to maintain the 3 rivers area.

Higginbotham says one part of the bill creates an Arkansas River Advisory Board. The board will consist of various stakeholders who advise the Army Corps of Engineers as they carry out projects. He says this will lead to improvements in how the Corps improves the ways it addresses specific needs along the state’s many waterways

“Most people don’t think of Arkansas as a maritime state. We’re actually breaking new ground and kind of trying to lead the way in the way inland waterways are managed. And so this water bill goes a long way in helping Arkansas become one of those leaders,” he says.

Higginbotham says the legislation also will likely help further fund improvements and regular dredging at the 4 public ports along Arkansas’s side the Mississippi River.