Dredging Crisis

Each foot of available draft means the ship is leaving behind cargo. The largest lakers forfeit almost 3,200 tons of cargo of each foot of reduced draft.

Years of inadequate funding for dredging have left an estimated 17 million cubic yards of sediment clogging the Great Lakes Navigation System and the impacts of the dredging crisis are felt every day. LCA's members estimate that three of every four cargos they carry each year represent less than full loads. The amount of cargo that's left behind varies with the size of the vessel. When record low water levels amplified the lack of dredging such as in early 2013, the largest vessels forfeited as much as 12,000 tons, or 17 percent of their per-trip carrying capacity. If the ship is carrying iron ore for the steel industry, 12,000 tons is enough product to make the steel in 10,000 cars, the production of which would keep a large auto plant in operation for more than three weeks.

The dredging crisis is man-made. Cargo is taxed and the receipts deposited in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). The HMTF typically takes in more than $1.6 billion per year, but historically was spending only about half of that amount per year on dredging. Even with recent annual HMTF spending exceeding $1 billion, the HMTF has a surplus of nearly $9 billion.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 set a new course, one, that if followed, will end the dredging crisis on the Lakes. The legislation requires the federal government to incrementally increasing expenditures from the HMTF until they reach 100 percent of receipts in 2025. Another key provision in the bill was the designation of the Great Lakes as a system in terms of maintenance dredging. No more would the federal government pit the 60 ports it maintains against one another for dredging dollars, but rather view them collectively, a move that puts the Lakes on a more even footing with the inland rivers and other regions of the country.

The appropriation process is an annual event, so LCA is working diligently to ensure that expenditures from the HMTF are increased each year as required. An equally important goal is require that going forward 10 percent of HMTF outlays are directed to the Lakes each year.

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