Following a summer of drought and low water levels on the Mississippi River, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, on Thursday announced the formation of a bipartisan caucus to improve Congressional action on river infrastructure and oversight.
The Senators intend for the committee to focus also on mitigating floods, encouraging river commerce and assisting river communities with concerns.
In a press statement regarding the caucus, Blunt noted that a platform was needed to unite states and communities bordering the river.
"The Mississippi River is a vital artery of commerce for hundreds of millions of tons of agriculture goods and other products that are important to our national economy," Blunt said. "We must work to maintain the river channel, which has a critical impact on jobs, income to many businesses and farmers, and the economy of the region as a whole."
The Senators highlighted the situation on the Mississippi River this summer created by extensive drought as another reason to form the caucus. Both Senators began to work on the issue last fall, organizing a bipartisan group to urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to authorize water releases to aid navigation.
"We learned a vital lesson this past fall when a potential disruption in navigation along the Mississippi threatened everything from increasing the cost to move goods to potential job losses. The river and its communities play an important role in commerce and the local economy," Harkin said.
Though efforts are well underway to improve navigation at the shallowest parts of the river, the Army Corps update in January indicated work would continue to remove rock pinnacles into February.
Blunt's announcement noted that the new caucus would improve communication between river stakeholders in the event of another weather, navigation or commerce issue. Harkin added that communities along the river would be a special focus of the group.
"The Mississippi River Caucus will look at ways that the Congress can be helpful to the cities and towns along the river to improve their economies and their quality of life, and to better respond to floods and other threats. I am pleased to work with Senator Blunt in this effort and I look forward to the work ahead," Harkin noted.