January 11, 2019: Successful Farming (full link below)


When it comes to inland waterway systems, you’re no doubt aware of the need to upgrade locks and dams system on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

Yet, the Arkansas River system, which serves Arkansas and Oklahoma, is a vital shipping artery for those two states, southern Missouri and Kansas. Dedicated in 1971, the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) has 18 locks and dams. In 2017, the 445-mile system moved $3.5 billion worth of product to the Mississippi River. Soybeans were the third-highest value product of that total, with 53 million bushels of soybean moving on the MKARNS, and 45 million bushels of wheat, according to Thaddeus Babb, waterways program manager at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

At 50 years of age, the MKARNS system is far younger than the Mississippi and Missouri waterways systems. Still, MKARNS is showing signs of age, with three major projects prioritized by the Waterways Advisory Board:

  • Updates to the Three Rivers Structure. River traffic is diverted from the Arkansas River to the White River the final 10 miles before reaching the Mississippi. Continued flooding of the White River, which – like the Verdigris River – flows into the Arkansas, compromises the ability of barges to navigate the Arkansas River. In 1989, a “Melinda Structure” levee was built, to separate navigable water of the White River from the lower Arkansas, which is unnavigable. Since then, the Army Corps of Engineers has spent $20 million to repair the Melinda Structure, which is damaged whenever high water on the Mississippi backs up into the White River, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazettenewspaper. At the Kansas Soybean Expo, Steve Taylor, member of the Waterways Advisory Board and chief operating officer for Port 33 at the Bruce Oakley Inc., says the Corps spends $2 million to $4 million each year to repair the Melinda Structure. The Waterways Advisory Board is proposing that the Corps fix the Melinda Structure permanently, rather than continue making piecemeal repairs that divert funds away from other important projects.
  • Backlogged maintenance. There is nearly $140 million in unfunded “critical maintenance,” defined as integral parts of the system that have a 50% chance of failure in the next five years, Beebe says.
  • A 12-foot channel. When built, the Arkansas River Channel had a 9-foot-deep river channel. The advisory board wants the channel dredged to 12 feet, which would allow fully loaded barges to navigate.

With major repairs needed on the Mississippi and Missouri River waterways, the likelihood of getting these projects fully funded is remote. However, leaders from the four states are collaborating to lobby for as much funding as possible.