By U.S. ArmyApril 2, 2013
Every day thousands of vessels move people, commodities, and products across the country via the nation's rivers and harbors. This water traffic is a vital component of the nation's economy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for ensuring the safe, reliable, efficient and environmentally sustainable movement of these vessels.
The nation's ports and waterways remain the crucial backbone of our economy for providing transportation cost savings that enables America's goods to compete in the global marketplace as well as getting goods from ships to shelves. Nearly 2.5 billion tons of cargo is shipped to, from or through 40 states each year. The Corps navigation services play an essential role in ensuring that commercial goods move smoothly along the distribution chain.
The Corps' primary navigation responsibilities include planning and constructing new navigation channels and locks and dams, and dredging to maintain channel depths at U.S. harbors and on inland waterways. The Corps operates and maintains 12,000 miles of inland and intracoastal waterway and 13,000 miles of coastal and deep draft (greater than 14-foot deep) navigable channels, including 196 commercial lock and dam sites, and is responsible for harbors and waterways in 40 states.
In partnership with local port authorities, Corps personnel oversee dredging and construction projects at hundreds of ports and harbors at an average annual cost of nearly $1.5 billion. The Corps oversees the dredging of nearly 300 million cubic yards of material each year to keep the nation's waterways navigable. Much of this dredged material is reused beneficially for environmental restoration projects including the creation of wetlands.
Did you know that…
• More than 99 percent of the volume of imported and exported goods from overseas move by ship, including 9 million barrels of oil per day.
• The U.S. marine transportation industry supports nearly $4 trillion in commerce and over 13 million jobs.
• The unit cost to transport commodities over inland waterways is lower than other forms of transportation. The ability to ship goods safely and reliably via inland waterways translates into nearly $9 billion annually in transportation savings for American businesses.
• More than 48 percent of all consumer goods purchased by Americans pass through harbors maintained by the Corps.
• Inland waterways maintained by the Corps handle about 600 million tons of consumer goods per year valued at over $180 billion.
The Corps carefully evaluates the environmental impact of each navigation project it undertakes. They typically perform computer modeling of planned changes to river and estuary systems to fully assess, and limit the environmental effects of navigation projects before any work begins. The Corps uses dredged material as a resource for habitat and wetland creation. They reduce disruption and damage to marine species by careful timing of dredging activities between "environmental windows" when threatened or endangered species migrate or make life-cycle movements that might or would be impacted by channel dredging at the same time. They also limit environmental harm caused by dredging by using high tech instruments to monitor dredge locations and activity.
Another, less visible environmental benefit of the Corps navigation projects, is that they help limit air pollution emissions by enabling tows with many barges to move cargo long distances on considerably less fuel than trains or trucks would need to move the same amount of cargo the same distance. According to a Texas Transportation Institute report published in December 2007 and amended in March 2009, one ton of cargo by inland waterway towing vessels, rail, and tractor trailer can be transported 576, 413, and 155 miles, respectively, on one gallon of fuel. The same report indicates the green house gases emitted by inland waterway towing vessels, trains, and tractor trailers is 19.3, 26.9, and 71.6 tons per million ton-miles, respectively. This report also compared safety (fatality) statistics for each of the above modes of transportation and indicated that inland waterway towing vessels, trains, and tractor trailers have the following ratios of fatalities per billion ton-miles of 1, 22.7, and 155, respectively.)