The Corps' navigation mission was authorized by Congress in 1824, when the Corps was directed to remove sandbars and snags from major navigable rivers. Today, the Corps' dredging program involves the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of riverine, estuarine, and coastal passages to meet navigation needs. The foremost navigation goal is to provide safe passage in navigation channels for vessels of a given design draft at the least cost.
The inflow of sand and finer-grained sediments causes many channels to shoal. If this material impedes navigation, it may be dredged to provide safe passage through an inlet or other navigation channel. Dredged material can be used for a variety of purposes that support the Corps' missions.
In Fiscal Year 2000, over 200 million cubic meters of material were dredged from Federally constructed and maintained navigation channels. The largest portion, 65 million m3, was removed along the Gulf coast, and the rest was dredged along the Atlantic, Pacific, and Great Lakes coasts.
The majority of U.S. ports that handle foreign commerce require regular dredging; therefore, dredging is the largest individual item in the Corps' budget. Because of the increasing size of container ships, and particularly the growth in petroleum shipping, it is expected that dredging amounts will continue to be a necessary measure to facilitate navigation at American ports, harbors, and waterways.