Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - A bill aimed at making major improvements to the nation's Great Lakes and waterway systems has passed in the U.S. Senate, and is awaiting President Obama's signature.
Among the provisions: assurance that the Great Lakes' harbors will be modernized, maintained, and dredged.
On Tuesday, the U.S. House overwhelmingly passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act 412-4.
According to Senator Al Franken, the bill will help keep invasive carp out of Minnesota waterways and fund important construction projects along the Mississippi River.
But it also ensures that 100% of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which has a balance of about $5.7 billion, will be used for just that.
Senator Franken says one of the biggest issues the Great Lakes faces is the need to dredge a backlog of 18 million cubic yards of sediment clogging shipping harbors and channels.
"Shippers have had to ship cargo ships not fully loaded," said Sen. Franken Wednesday, "and that's because they don't want to run aground either in the harbor or in shipping lanes."
It's the same frustration that U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar brought to Thursday's Senate session. Klobuchar says the economic hit that the shipping industry takes from a lack of dredging is far–reaching.
"Our whole economy suffers when we have to ship 10% less than we could on these ships," said Sen. Klobuchar just after the bill's passing, "and instead we're bringing it in from other parts of the world. This doesn't make any sense at all."
Now a brutal winter and a late start to the shipping season are only adding urgency to the need to get more product through the Great Lakes faster.
"And we can do it much more efficiently," said Sen. Franken, "at least after this dredging is done."
The WRRDA also establishes the Great Lakes as a single navigation system, which lawmakers say will help ensure that dredging and maintenance will be considered a top priority throughout the shipping system.
Senator Klobuchar says proper removal of the 18 million cubic yards of sediment building up in Great Lakes shipping channels is estimated to cost $200 million.