DALLAS - As our nation’s infrastructure continues to age and deteriorate, and funding levels remain unchanged, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is faced with the challenge of maintaining the nation’s waterways and reservoirs all while reducing spending.
The urgency to find new ways to maintain the nation’s infrastructure has only been heightened by the latest infrastructure report card given by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The ASCE gave our nation’s infrastructure a D.
This challenge has forced the Corps to look at new ways of funding the nation’s water infrastructure projects in order to meet the needs of the millions of people and businesses that rely on these systems on a daily basis to import and export goods and services, travel and recreate.
The Southwestern Division commander, Brig. Gen. Thomas Kula, recently spoke to members of the TEX-21 group to educate and inform them on the Corps missions and challenges with meeting the nation’s infrastructure needs.
TEX-21 is a grassroots, national coalition made up of public and private entities that are committed to determining comprehensive solutions to the transportation challenges plaguing our areas.
The meeting is part of a collaborative effort by the Corps to find new ways to meet the challenges that face Texas’ infrastructure demands.
“The Corps sees the need to work closely with groups like TEX-21 to expand our communication and collaboration efforts so that we can develop comprehensive solutions to the transportation challenges across the region,” Kula said.
“With the Corps projected funding levels being flatlined and even possibly reduced over the coming years, there is concern that our lack of funding infrastructure projects at the federal level could impact our nation’s economy,” said Kula. “The Corps has initiated its infrastructure strategy based on collaboration with business and customers so that we can create a business case based on understanding the customer-stakeholder priorities.”
The SWD infrastructure strategy encompasses three major priorities: water supply, the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System and Texas channels and ports.
Speaking to the group about water supply, Kula emphasized the challenges that the southwest region faces when it comes to water supply- drought, the Tarrant Regional Water District losing a Supreme Court case recently over their ability to access water from Oklahoma, and the Texas Water Development Board losing a state court case in which the Region C water plan was invalidated due to the plan for the Dallas-Fort Worth region to transfer water from northeast Texas.
These water supply issues affect the SWD because the Corps is the largest single water supplier in the region, holding 74 multi-purposed water reservoirs in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, said Kula.
To overcome these challenges, SWD has partnered with the TWDB, Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Kansas Water Office to identify ways in which these agencies can leverage resources with the Corps to identify funding opportunities, integrate planning processes, and identify opportunities to ensure long term sustainability of the regions reservoirs.
The next priority Kula discussed was the MKARNS which spans two SWD districts, Little Rock and Tulsa. The Corps is responsible for the maintenance and operations of the MKARNS which is made up of 417 miles of channels from the Mississippi River to the Port of Catoosa and has 18 locks and dams.
With budget cuts and funding reductions, the Corps has had to find innovative ways to keep the MKARNS reliable and operational, all the while maintaining a level of service that allows industry to continue their transportation of goods along the waterways without interruption.
By collaborating with industry and users of the system, SWD has been able to develop a long-term maintenance plan that allows for predictable, scheduled outages along the waterway so the Corps can perform the highest priority maintenance with minimal disruption to industry.
The third major priority for the regions is tied to the shallow draft navigation system along the Texas Coast.
The Texas coast includes 12 shallow draft ports and 15 deep draft ports all interconnected by 443 miles of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterways. More than 73 million tons of commerce travel along the Texas coast making it a vital system to tie Texas to the world’s economy. The shallow draft ports are especially essential to the economy and the oil and gas industry of Texas because of their strategic placement near shale oil discoveries.
Currently, funding constraints are preventing the Corps from maintaining these ports to standard. To overcome some of these challenges, SWD has been working with the Texas Department of Transportation to find ways of funding the maintenance of the shallow draft ports in order to meet the transportation needs of the oil and gas industry for the next 25 years.
“Working with TXDOT, we see a future where we will be linking available federal funding to state and local funding to meet the transportation needs of industry that rely on our waterways,” said Kula.
“Meeting the nation’s infrastructure challenges is a top priority for the Corps and we are always looking for new, innovative ways to make sure we meet the needs of the millions of people and businesses that rely on our systems every day,” said Kula. “In a time of constrained budgets, it is imperative that the Corps continues to meet with, educate and collaborate with diverse groups, agencies and organizations that have a vested interest in keeping our infrastructure up-to-date and reliable and are focused on ensuring the future viability of this region.”