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March 2017 
NTSB wants training for all river users  

   Back in the VHS days of video playback, UMWA produced a video intended for recreational boaters on safety around barge tows.  There was also a pamphlet, both intended for recreational boaters with the safety message, “If you can’t see the pilot, he can’t see you,” and "be careful when operating around towboats and barges." 
     Since then the problem has grown even worse, with more users and a wider variety of vehicles including kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and sailboards.
     In a recent report, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says, “The safety risk is exacerbated not only by the diversity of waterway users but also by differences in their experience, marine knowledge, and boat-handling skills.”
     NTSB notes that anyone can, “legally operate on any waterway regardless of the waterway’s size, complexity, or traffic density.”  The newly released report notes that back in 2004, “The National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC) recommended that the Coast Guard seek statutory authority to require recreational boat operators on waters subject to jurisdiction of the United States to possess a certificate showing completion of an instructional course or an equivalent that meets the standards of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA).”
     NTSB notes that the Coast Guard has unable to get authority to require boater safety education.  But the report encourages the Coast Guard to renew its efforts  and, “seek statutory authority that requires all recreational boat operators on waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to demonstrate completion of an instructional course or an equivalent.
Above: The Mv. Stephen L. Colby was the first tow to lock through Lock and Dam 2 to open the 2017 Navigation Season about 6 a.m. March 9. Last year the first tow went through L&D 2 on March 13 and the average opening date is March 22. (COE photo by Pam Nieber)

From the Executive Director . . .

Distant waterways; similar issues
     As the U.S. awaits the next step in financing trillion dollar infrastructure programs ranging from nationwide Wi-Fi installation in underserved areas, to the construction of outdated waterway projects, we thought it would be instructional to step back and look at how other nations fare in their efforts to keep waterways functional and affordable.
     After a bit of searching, we selected “Inland Waterways Association” of England and Wales (IWA) with a tag-line of “Keeping our waterways alive”.
     Currently 4,700 miles of canals and inland waterways in the UK are visited each year by more than 13 million locals and tourists to fish, walk the towpath, observe wildlife or go boating to “simply enjoy the sheer splendor” of this self-described Linear National Park.  Despite wide spread interest and local support, there are still over 2,500 miles of dilapidated waterways, according to Waterway Recovery Group (WRG), a voluntary organization of waterway enthusiasts who work to restore and preserve the system, in some cases just to enjoy the outdoors. 
     The WRG schedules work parties around the system where volunteers have a chance to learn traditional skills such as bricklaying and stonework, or more modern techniques such as building concrete retainers or operating machinery such as excavators or dumpers.  Apart from being over 18, age doesn’t matter, nor does previous experience.  Members of the WRG provide 5,000 volunteering days each year.  Sounds a bit like Camelot doesn’t it:  admirable but somehow illusive?
     But it hasn’t always been this way.  As stated in the IWA website, Britain’s waterways were perceived as dirty, derelict ditches in the 1940s when ever-decreasing numbers of working boats struggled against ‘dreadful conditions’ to maintain a semblance of commercial navigation – and anyone who navigated canals for pleasure “. . .was considered quite eccentric”.  That changed with the formation of the IWA in 1946, after many years of campaigning to convince government, local authorities and the public that canals had a future.   “Let them fill in”, was the usual response.
     Today, states the website, waterways are regarded as a valuable part of the British landscape, appreciated for their industrial heritage, their contribution to urban landscapes, and for their atmosphere of peace in a busy world; over half the population lives within about 10 minutes of a waterway, providing a ready source of WRG volunteers.  With the value of canals finally sorted out, leisure and a small commercial marine industry is worth over £3 billion ($4.87 billion) to UK’s Public Limited Companies who directly employ about 34,000 people.  As to return on investment:  one Pound has a minimum economic return of at least six Pounds.  That ratio, states the website, can be much higher where there has been regeneration of canals.
Freight access barriers
     While IWA considers that there is untapped potential for transfer of freight to inland waterways, the UK faces barriers similar to those in the U.S. but with a different twist.  For example there is a shortage of continuing UK waterway development to allow bridges to be raised to facilitate the use of container barges and the lack of knowledge about water-freight options in some [government] navigation authorities.  Then too, some barriers are of the home-grown variety including the lack of experience in many industries where transport managers are unfamiliar with the availability and costs of barging – so they rarely consider that option. 
     There is also inadequate promotion of waterborne freight as there is often a lack of suitable vessels or trained crews when and where they’re needed. .  That said the IWA, recognizing that canal barges are not suitable for widespread use in end-user distribution, nonetheless works to promote water transport for non-perishable cargoes and unitized loads including containers and bulk commodities including grain, aggregates, waste and cement.
Europe took a different path
     Some European countries took an earlier, more strategic approach.  In 1876 France developed a national waterway strategy, providing for standard vessels with 350 tons of cargo capacity.  Around 1899, Germany adopted a standard vessel size of 1,000 tons capacity.  All the while, most UK inland waterway traffic was being moved in vessels carrying less than 150 tons.  In contrast to parts of Europe, Britain's freight waterways have continued to suffer from a lack of strategic planning and investment and remained at a capacity below accepted European standards for modern barges and river-ocean ships, according to IWA’s website.
     Unfortunately, according to the IWA, there is historic legacy in the UK of investment in existing transport modes drying up once a new one comes along.  For example, the rapid decline of the canals in the UK in the 19th century led to the movement of financial investment to the growing railway system. 
     Then, during the 20th century, the UK rail network progressively lost favor with the development of road transport.  In an attempt to reverse that legacy, current IWA campaigns focus on waterway advantages: waterborne freight reduces CO2 emissions by at least 75% compared to road transport; over 90% of the population believes that canals are an important and valued national asset; and that the money needed from the government to properly run waterways is less than the coast of building four miles of motorways and less than 0.02% of government spending.

Regulations, even for personal vessels
     To traverse UK inland waterways every boat, even unpowered craft (canoes, kayaks, air-filled tubes and the like) must be licensed with the navigation authority responsible for the waterway of use. Navigation authorities typically offer licenses for different time periods, often from as little as one day, through to a full year.  Licenses for some navigation authorities are included in memberships in local clubs.  Waterway fees were not included in website material, except to say that now is the time to change them since they have been static for two centuries and are often cited by boat owners as being too complex, out of date and inequitable.
Similar to the U.S., the UK has a number of oversight agencies and rules-of-the-road.  The Canal & River Trust manages almost all canals and smaller rivers, whereas the Environment Agency manages the River Thames and larger rivers.  There are also authorities who manage other authorities, and a waterway code.  If you’re an impromptu speed demon, you get special consideration:  Speed events cannot be performed without permission from the local waterway office – in advance.  Insurance for unpowered boats is not required, but is recommended.  It is also suggestion that unpowered craft, when passing anglers, to follow a single file straight course and keep to the center of the channel, apparently to show respect for anglers’ space.  How’s that for a sample of regulated civility?
     And, as a last rejoinder, waterway authorities warn that weirs and sluices are dangerous.  “Don’t stay aboard your craft in a filling or emptying lock - carry it around, or if it is too heavy, use lines to keep control”.  This may be a sticking point with National Park sanctioned canoe trips in the Minneapolis upper harbor.
Invasive species
     The mid-nineteenth century saw the addition of foreign plants to England, either as garden plantings or pond covers from Europe, the Far East, the Caucasus or east coast U.S.  As nature in wont to do, they immediately flourished and out produced native species.  Those that were planted alongside canals were successful, but died off in the winter, exposing banks to erosion and increased flooding.  The floating pennywort, as one, is a native of southern U.S. coastal waters and first appeared in the UK in 1990 and is now spreading across the British Isle much to the chagrin of power boaters facing propeller-tangle in seemingly endless seas of lily pads.
     Although UK’s navigable canals and waterway mileage total less than one-half of that in the U.S., the similarities:   air quality advantage of barges; multi-use of waterways; and a favorable return-on-investment, reflect an almost universal attraction between people and water.  Yet, the fact that the UK has developed its canal system into an annual $4.87 billion economic and recreational engine supporting 34,000 jobs with five World Heritage Sites is certainly deserving of our attention and respect.  
More calls for river improvements

     During the recent National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky, an expert panel agreed that infrastructure upgrades on American Waterways are not just an idea or a goal, they are a necessity.  Panel members said that the amount of grain, farm equipment fertilizer and energy supplies moved up and down the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers make those upgrades especially important.
     Mayors of Mississippi River cities agree and are asking lawmakers to spend close to $8 billion dollars on river infrastructure.  St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is the Co-Chair of the initiative and says the plan by the Mississippi River Cities and Town Initiative calls for repair and maintenance of the river's locks, dams, and other infrastructure as well as investment in floodplain restoration, pollution control, ecosystems, and disaster planning.
     Emphasizing the importance of the river system, a recent Times-Picayune editorial said, “The Mississippi River churns past 124 towns through 10 states on its way to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. The mighty river generates more than $496.7 billion in annual revenue and supports 1.5 million jobs.

Other Items of Interest...

*   A group representing rural interests recently met with members of the Trump administration at the White House and came away impressed.  Farm Credit Council CEO Todd Van Hoose told the Hagstrom Report that administration officials have apparently “thought through” how rural needs are different and how important infrastructure is to a strong rural America.  Van Hoose said the group also discussed the need for transportation infrastructure, including locks and dams, that moves crops from the farm to domestic and foreign markets

*   Count North Dakota State Senator Terry Wanzek among the proponents of a healthy river system.  Wanzek grows wheat, corn, soybean and pinto beans on a family farm near Jamestown and says he returned from a recent Chicago seminar with a renewed appreciation for the infrastructure, including the river system, which keeps his commodities competitive in a world market. 
      “As the Brazilians continued their presentation, it became clear that they in fact envied us. Although they could grow soybeans inexpensively, they faced major obstacles moving their harvests to market. Their transportation costs, at that time, nearly doubled their total cost to grow soybeans and deliver to markets,” Wanzek says in an Op-Ed piece in the Grand Forks Herald.

*   If you've ever wondered "how do they do that" as the new St. Croix Bridge is being put together, MNDOT has the answers on a comprehensive web site that includes videos, still shots and printed information about the whole process. 

*   YouTube has a beautiful video clip of the Stephen L. Colby, the first towboat through Lock and Dam 2 this year.  
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