One public policy matter that is not as visible as environmental issues is the deteriorating condition of our inland waterways, which are maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps estimates that 47 percent of all main or auxiliary locks on the Ohio River will be in poor or failing condition by 2016. Data currently indicates that this risk will rapidly worsen, especially in light of the budget pressures on the Corps’ navigation projects.
The nation’s inland waterways are of strategic economic and military importance because the commercially navigable waterways connect 41 states, providing the capability to move large amounts of freight cargo. These waterways carry agricultural commodities, chemicals, coal and petroleum products to ports across the United States. But the infrastructure supporting this commerce is past its 50-year lifespan, according to the Institute for Waterways, a unit of the Corps. And according to the Congressional Research Service, only one lock along the Ohio River has received funding to be replaced through the 2016 fiscal year.
Continued lock delay and reduced water levels kept us from fully delivering on our normal coal deliveries schedule. In 2012, we experienced 176 days of lock delay at the Markland and Greenup locks for installation of miter gates, which are used to close the entrance and exit of navigation locks to allow passage of vessels between water levels in a canal or river system. Three sets of miter gates were installed along the Ohio River in 2012. Nine major locks have already been scheduled for significant closures for 2013. While it is long overdue, these closures will mean further delays in delivering fuel, grain and other commodities. These nine closures represent a total of 439 days of closures, which can cause significant delays in delivering commodities as well as create financial risk.
AEP continues to support a 20-year capital development plan proposed by the Inland Waterways Users Board and various trade associations. This plan would increase the fuel tax that commercial users of waterways would pay to help fund infrastructure improvements. We expect legislation incorporating this plan to be introduced in Congress in 2013, and we hope it will be incorporated into the next Water Resources Development Act as a high priority. However, the Washington, D.C., political climate makes passage of any significant legislation in 2013 that would enable this program uncertain.
In addition to infrastructure challenges, the drought is posing significant economic as well as environmental and social implications. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported 2012 was the warmest and most extreme for weather on record in the contiguous United States. It was also the 15th driest year on record in the lower 48 states and the driest for the nation since 1988.
American Society of Civil Engineers report card on inland waterways