Major Projects in Water Bill Gets President Biden’s Assent

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President Joe Biden gave his assent to a large defense bill on 23 December 2022, Friday which involves major infrastructure developments. Via the Water Resources Development Act that directs the Army Corps of Engineers, the bill targets the betterment of navigation and protection against storms worsened by climate change.

This is the biggest project by far this year, with $34 billion set aside. The area under consideration is the Texas coastal barrier, so the Houston region, prone to major hurricanes, remains protected. The plan involves massive floodgates and other structures to protect the region’s oil refineries and chemical plants at risk during disasters. Also known as the Water Bill, it includes a $3.2 billion authorization for a new Soo Lock on the St. Marys River, which connects Lake Superior with Lake Huron.

This part of the Water Bill is integral to the North American industrial economy because nearly all U.S. iron ore is mined near Lake Superior, but for production, it needs to be transported on large vessels through the Michigan lock. Federal officials describe this aging lock as the Achilles’ heel of the American industrial economy. Even though two locks are operating in the region, only one is large enough to handle the 305 meters freighters the industry uses.

“Everything was built around water transport on the Great Lakes,” said Kevin Dempsey, President and CEO of a steel industry group. “If the lock fails, it could upend industry and manufacturing,” he continues. In a setting where roads and rail are not feasible alternatives, the waterways need to be strengthened for better infrastructure. Despite the previous signing and authorization of the new Michigan lock, its construction has yet to progress because of varying costs due to inflation, design changes, and other miscellaneous factors. As a result, Congress has set aside larger funds for this project in 2022. The completion of the project is slated for 2030.

This Water Bill, including 25 project authorizations, has been pushed after years of planning. Along with the infrastructure development, the bill also makes way for job creation and local benefits back in the adjacent districts.

The other new lock is in Sault Ste. Marie is on Michigan’s eastern Upper Peninsula, about 346 miles north of Detroit. Signs of age, wear, and tear on the Poe Lock have been brought to the Army Corps officials. “When you have steel components that are in the water for 50 years, they do tend to fatigue and deteriorate,” said Kevin McDaniels, deputy district engineer for the Army Corps Detroit District. The officials describe this as disaster mitigation by keeping this single point of failure for a critical supply chain in check.

Climate change is another topic addressed in this water bill. It makes it easier for the Corps to combat flooding by directing their best efforts using wetlands and other nature-based solutions. “There is a lot in here that is important for our environment, our economy and for climate resilience,” said Amy Souers Kober, a spokesperson with American Rivers. Besides, the bill also focuses on water conservation in drought-prone areas and ecosystem restoration projects. The bill also mentions the protection of the Great Lakes from Invasive Carp.

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