Interview: Randy Asbury, Executive Director, Coalition to Protect the Missouri River

Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Randy Asbury, Executive Director, Coalition to Protect the Missouri River

Randy Asbury, Executive Director, Coalition to Protect the shares with readers of his insights on key market drivers for the coming year.

To what degree are "partnerships" important to river-related advocacy?

RA: Partnerships are fundamental to the successful outcome of river-related policy efforts and especially to issues. In today's complex political culture, it's imperative that collaborative strategies transcend what once may have even been unlikely partnerships. A variety of partnering possibilities, whether traditional or non-traditional in nature, add breadth and diversity to issues and strategies that create mutually beneficial outcomes. 

For instance, labor unions and agricultural entities stood together in seeking lock and dam authorization in WRDA legislation. The unions recognized the benefit of the multi-million construction man-hours while agriculture sought benefit from updated transportation infrastructure. Separately, a divided Congress would not have listened; together, the "partners" became a formidable force.

Waterways Council Inc.'s (WCI) partnership with environmental and conservation NGOs was a crucial step in changing the outdated win-lose paradigm of traditional river politics. After the completion of the navigation study and the Chief's Report being received by Congress, WCI's outreach to environmental interests became a focal point in promoting the dual-purpose plan for the long-term economic viability and ecosystem sustainability for the .

In both instances, the political landscape changed as both aisles of Congress were lobbied for these synergistic outcomes. When traditional adversaries enter the doors of Congress as allies rather than as adversaries, leaders listen.

 This is not unlike the efforts required to sustain navigation in the current environment of ongoing assaults aimed at the de-authorization of navigation through Congressional means. The inter-relationship of Missouri River navigation with agriculture, municipal water supplies, power plants and waterborne commerce creates a perfect collaborative opportunity which is important for each industry.

One such partnership exists between the agricultural and navigational industries. Close to one million acres of prime farmland is farmed in . This partnership is not just about the agricultural commodities moved by navigation but, more importantly, the water-compelled rates generated by navigation as one of three transportation choices in a highly competitive transportation system.

In addition, navigation infrastructure (i.e. dikes, revetments, etc.) is an integral part of the flood control system thus protecting the prime farmland so important to agricultural interests. 

navigation flow support is also fundamental to the viability of the drinking water and utility industries. Partnerships that recognize the value of this flow linkage have been and must continue to be created to offset the rhetoric against and vilification of navigation.

It is not just about navigation but about the flows that navigation provides. Navigation is supported on the Lower Missouri River extending from , to the mouth at . Millions of people obtain their drinking water from the . Numerous power plants generating over 11,000 megawatts of electricity secure their cooling water from the river. Eliminate navigation and the critical flow support for these essential industries is lost.

Each flow dependent industry battling this issue alone may struggle to win their argument but together their resources and "team" advocacy will prevail.

What is the benefit of Missouri River navigation to waterborne commerce?

RA: It has been said regarding the brain that neurons produce an output "that is more than the sum of its parts." It is no different with 's greatest river - the .  As a part of the nation's inland waterways system, the produces more than the sum of its tributaries - if not in goods transported, in history and folklore.

Just as fingers are important for a hand to be effective, tributaries are critical for an inland waterway system to function properly and at maximum efficiency. The inland waterways system is a system that is dependent on all it parts. As a major tributary to the Mississippi River, the Missouri River through its navigation flows provides on average close to one-half of the water in the Mississippi River between and . As the saying goes, you can put one foot in ice water and one foot in boiling water and on average you are comfortable. The world does not operate on averages. During low flow periods, the can contribute up two-thirds of the flow in the Middle Mississippi.

It would be an understatement to say that Missouri River navigation flows are invaluable to commerce. Hundreds of millions of tons of commodities worth tens of billions of dollars travel along the annually. Without the Missouri River's flow support, commerce and our nation's economy would be jeopardized.

Ironically, despite the flow relationship, the Missouri River is managed separately from the Mississippi River at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' headquarters on the west coast in . Because of this compartmentalized management, the Missouri River is more susceptible to attacks from upstream interests seeking to control Missouri River water and eliminate navigation at the expense of those dependent on its flows, particularly navigation.

It is during low water events that navigation flows will be indispensable to the future 1200-foot locks. The best locking system in the world is no match for an inadequate water supply. Problems arise when the free-flowing river between and the confluence with the - the "bottleneck reach" - experiences low flows.

Mississippi River navigation relies on the to supply up to two-thirds of the flow in this reach during low water events. Low water can create a "bottleneck" and either restrict or close the entire inland waterway system. Consequently, Missouri River flows can determine to what degree traffic is operational in the "bottleneck reach" and at the , one of the largest inland ports in the country. The Coalition to Protect the Missouri River (CPR) represents the diverse interests of its agricultural, navigational and utility-related membership. CPR supports responsible management of resources and the maintenance of congressionally authorized purposes of the river including navigation - a dominant function of the 1944 Flood Control Act.

(Source: MarineNews, June 2008 edition, "CEO Six-Pack")

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