Proceedings magazine is a communication tool for the Coast Guard's Marine Safety & Security Council. Each quarterly magazine focuses on a specific theme of interest to the marine industry.
Issue link: http://uscgproceedings.epubxp.com/i/707823
39 Summer 2016 Proceedings www.uscg.mil/proceedings When we think about America's top resources, we typically think about energy resources like oil or natural gas, vital metals such as copper or iron, or our enormous agricultural capacity. But what about the vast transportation network comprising thousands of miles of navigable waterways that link tens of millions of consumers, ensuring that those stra- tegic resources get to markets? While the transportation infrastructure dialogue often focuses on highways, bridges, and airports, too frequently the only time we talk about America's marine transporta- tion system is when its banks are breached by floodwaters or other environmental mishaps occur. This is unfortunate, as America's waterways — and partic- ularly the Mississippi River system — are national assets with global economic importance, and there are opportu- nities to further leverage this resource. We must be mind- ful, though, that the Mississippi River system is vulner- able, requiring protection, thoughtful policies, and — most importantly — investment. An Immense Transportation Network The Mississippi River system, also commonly referred to as the western rivers, includes the Mississippi River and its major tributaries (the Missouri, Arkansas, Ohio, Red, and Illinois riv- ers) as well as major Ohio River tributaries (the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and the Tennes- see, Allegheny, and Wabash rivers). As such, the Mississippi River system consists of more than 6,000 miles of navigable waterways, extending north to south from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, as far west as Oklahoma and Nebraska, and as far east as Pennsylvania. The drainage basin includes 41 percent of the conti- nental United States, and more than 50 major U.S. cities rely on the system for potable water. 1 Strategic Economic Importance Strategic resources like the Mississippi River system also pose national security implications. President Obama's recently updated National Security Strategy underscores economic might as the bedrock of American power and global influence, and emphasizes renewed strategic focus on domestic economic issues to strengthen this foundation. 2 If economic might is the bedrock of American power, then our national intermodal transportation system, in which the inland river system plays a critical role, is the prime facilita- tor. For example, the Mississippi River system enables an enormous share of America's global trade, including 60 per- cent of U.S. grain exports, 3 as the system's waterways reach deep into the heart of America's rich farming regions and provide efficient transportation for agricultural exports such as soybeans, corn, and grain. Further, the relatively cheap cost of transporting these exports to the Gulf Coast by barge The Mississippi River System A strategic resource. by C a PT M IC hael w . Cr IBB s U.S. Coast Guard Regions The Mississippi River system. Image created by Mr. Joseph Brown, U.S. Coast Guard Shore Infrastructure Logistics Center.