Debi Durham and Governor Branstad

Debi Durham and Governor Branstad

State leaders are raising concerns about the billion-dollar backlog of maintenance and repairs needed on the Mississippi River’s lock and dam system.

Part of the waterway was closed for three days earlier this year when a failed lock prevented navigation. Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say the reliability of the system is decreasing and Debi Durham, Iowa’s Economic Development Director, is worried.

“There will be a day of reckoning, I assure you, because if we do not make the investments, we will have a breach someday,” Durham says. “It will happen. It will be a matter of time and it will have catastrophic economic ramifications for Iowa and the Midwest.”

The lock and dam system was built during the New Deal era and it’s 80 years old.

In the coming weeks, Iowa’s corn and soybean harvest will be floating down the Mississippi to export markets around the world.

Durham says the U.S. is falling behind other countries in keeping up this vital waterway.

“You’ve got China investing in their infrastructure and their movement of trade and you’ve got Brazil,” Durham says. “The people we’re competing with, the people where we need to move product to, are investing in that and the United States is not.”

She notes, major improvements now underway on the Panama Canal. Upgrades to the lock and dam system are badly needed, she says, plus major channel work to clear sand and sediment after floods earlier this year.

Durham appeared recently before the Mississippi River Commission in Dubuque.