The US inland waterways have been a mainstay in domestic shipping since the founding of the nation some 238 years ago. The way the country uses its inland waterways, the great lakes and rivers will have far reaching effects into the future. There are many different perspectives one could take on the use of the system. One could feasibly look at the economic effects, environmental effects and the effects on the country as a whole.
The United States is one of the largest and most diverse countries in the world in terms of wildlife. Everything from desert climates and tundra exist within the 50 states, and as such many are concerned with protecting this environment. This concern for the environment is inclusive of our water ways as well. Invasive species such as the zebra mussel and Asian carp are problems throughout the great lakes (Egan, 2014). Their infestation of the waters from countries abroad has wreaked havoc upon the natural species native to local waters. The zebra mussel likely was a stowaway on the hulls of ships navigating the Saint-Lawrence Seaway to the Great Lakes, and is a direct result of international shipping and many efforts have mounted to prevent the spread and combat the infestation of the invasion.
These infestations are just the beginning however. Crude oil and other volatile and hazardous materials are transported on these waters, and the region may not be prepared for an Exon Valdez incident (Ellison, 2014). The water quality is also important as the same rivers and lakes used to transport freight are critically important sources of fresh water as well. The US Army Corps of Engineers is concerned with the quality of the water after several exposures in 2010. Considering this is the same water that many areas of the country use for irrigation and drinking water, it is certainly disconcerting (Marion, 2010).
Moreover, The infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers has given the entire waterway system a grade of “D-“ (2013. This means that the entire system has long since been overdue for an update. Considering the volume of cargo is equivalent to 51 million truck trips each year the ecological safety of such an old system is put into question (Shipping-Facts).
The entire system is not without benefits despite the ecological difficulties. 51 million truck trips is a significant amount of America’s cargo transported per annum. The huge swaths of the iron ore industry out of the upper peninsula of Michigan depend upon the great lakes and respective waterways for competitive pricing. Many industries using the aging system have come across huge issues when moving large amounts of product as well (Hirtzer, 2014).
The system is also massively more efficient than the road and rail system. This addresses some of the concerns with the environmental issues due to the improved fuel efficiency (Shipping-Facts). The system therefore is also very good at transporting industrial materials such as petroleum and petroleum derivatives and coal. The amount of business done on the lakes and rivers of the US is simply enormous. 715 million tons of goods were shipped on the waterways in 2001. This amount is a significant amount of total US goods.
Despite all of its problems the inland waterway system has had huge ramifications on the US since its inception. The Erie Canal spurred western movement in the early days of the country, and men like Lewis and Clark navigating the Mighty Mississippi are ingrained into American culture. The system’s commerce is certainly valuable to the average American, but one must be mindful of the environmental ramifications of using the rivers and lakes to transport goods. Given an update to the aging system, the system will be just as successful in the future as it was in the past.
Egan, D. (2014, September 26). Great Lakes in unprecedented danger, Chicago mayor says. Freep.com. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2014/09/25/great-lakes-unprecedented-danger-chicago-mayor-says/16198435/
Ellison, G. (n.d.). Region unprepared for Great Lakes crude oil spill, water quality advocates warn. MLive.com. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2014/09/crude_oil_shipping_great_lakes.html
Hirtzer, M., & Plume, K. (2014, September 25). US river freight system near breaking point as huge harvest looms. Reuters. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/09/25/usa-grains-barges-idUKL1N0RA1GL20140925
Marion, J., Lee, J., Lemeshow, S., & Buckley, T. (2010, September 16). Download PDFs. Association of gastrointestinal illness and recreational water exposure at an inland U.S. beach. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0043135410005464
FixTheTrustFund.org. (n.d.). 2013 Report Card for Americas Infrastructure. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/inland-waterways/
shipping-facts.com. (n.d.). shipping-facts.com. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.shipping-facts.com/