An extensive overhaul of the nation’s waterway infrastructure – something a broad coalition of agriculture and shipping interests have urged for years – will begin after President Obama signs the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014.

To the relief of supporters, passage of the $8.2 billion legislation was not bucked by many lawmakers. After coming out of conference, the House passed the act 412 to 4 and the Senate, on Thursday (May 22), voted 91 to 7.  

The agriculture sector relies heavily on the waterway system as more than 60 percent of U.S. grain and other commodity exports are transported along it. Further, 95 percent of farm exports and imports move through U.S. harbors.

The waterways upgrade is expected to provide some 500,000 jobs.

It will also allow waterway preparations for the larger ships that will soon be able to pass through the Panama Canal.   

The canal’s deepening was addressed by Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt. “It’s been estimated our nation’s internal waterway system has more navigable water than the rest of the world, and these waterways happen to overlay the world's largest piece of continuous farmland. With the expansion of the Panama Canal and the explosion of world food and energy needs, we must take advantage of our valuable waterways to compete in the global economy.”

Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the importance of WRRDA to his home state “that relies on river ports, coastal waterways cannot be overstated. I look forward to this measure facilitating progress on dredging, flood control and other projects that are closely associated with the commerce and public safety in Mississippi.”