US Army Corps of Engineers
Institute for Water Resources

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Value to the Nation


Value to the Nation: Rivers

Whether you live on the banks of a river or hundreds of miles from one, your life is impacted upon every day by what happens on our nation's waterways. Our rivers provide affordable transportation for raw materials, manufactured products and consumer goods; a ready water supply for homes and businesses; irrigation for farms; recreation; and habitats for plants, fish and wildlife.

USACE has the challenging and rewarding job of trying to balance the many ways our nation's rivers are used in an effort to maximize the benefits they provide, while at the same time protecting and restoring these important aquatic ecosystems.

The Red River in Louisiana is a good example of how USACE seeks to balance competing priorities. For much of its history the 200+ mile stretch of the Red River between Shreveport, LA, and the Mississippi River was a source of frustration to many residents who lived and worked near it. Commercial tows had a difficult time navigating the river. As a result, the tremendous economic benefits that it could have brought to the area were lost. During heavy rains the river was prone to overflowing its banks, flooding low-lying farmland and towns. And, finally, there were serious erosion problems on long stretches of the river's banks. All of that gradually began to change when the U.S. Congress authorized what has become the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway Project.

Over the past 30 years, USACE has invested nearly $2 billion in the project, constructing five locks and dams and dredging a 9-foot deep, 200-foot wide navigation channel. USACE also has stabilized the banks along the 236-mile stretch of river, limiting erosion and preventing loss of valuable lands. The project has stimulated local economies and helped generate thousands of jobs by enabling nearly 4 million tons of cargo to move along the waterway every year. By 2046 that number is expected to rise to 16 million tons. The changes also have greatly reduced the impact of flooding. During one period of heavy rain in 2001, nearly 1 million acres of land were saved from flood damage because of the waterway.

The waterway, which began largely as an effort to improve navigation, has gradually evolved to meet numerous other needs. For example, the lakes created as part of the project provide recreational opportunities for more than 2 million people per year. Throughout the project, USACE has worked diligently to protect the plants, fish and wildlife that live in and near the river. Studies indicate that the project has improved the quality and quantity of fish and waterfowl populations. The river also has become a major route for migratory birds.

As part of its overall balancing efforts, USACE is implementing a regional, watershed approach to rivers that takes into consideration nearby, related water resources such as lakes, wetlands and coasts.

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