The Mississippi River Commission is charged with carrying out the comprehensive river management program known as the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MR&T) project, which was authorized through the Flood Control Act of 1928. The four major elements of the MR&T project are levees for containing flood flows; floodways for the passage of excess flows past critical reaches of the Mississippi River; channel improvement and stabilization to provide an efficient and reliable navigation channel, increase the flood-carrying capacity of the river, and protect the levee system; and tributary basin improvements for major drainage basins to include dams and reservoirs, pumping plants, auxiliary channels and pumping stations.

The MR&T project is the largest flood control project in the world, providing protection to the 36,000 square-mile lower Mississippi Valley.

“It represents one of mankind’s most successful civil works projects and one of the wisest investments,” Walsh said.

Nearing completion — with a June 1 schedule date — is the hurricane risk reduction system at New Orleans.

“This $14.5 billion project has been our No. 1 priority,” he said, “and represents the largest civil works project in the Corps’ history. It involves over 300 contracts and includes the world’s largest pumping system. It represents world class work.”

Rear Adm. Jonathan Bailey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a commission member, said the hearings have produced “collectively dramatic testimony” as to the value of the Mississippi River and its tributary system to the nation’s commerce.

“With a $14 trillion national deficit, I think everyone feels something needs to be done. But I don’t think everyone realizes how dramatic are the cuts being proposed and the reality of how it will affect businesses, services, and the economy if these facilities can’t be properly maintained, or if some of them have to be shut down.”

The public needs to be reminded, Col. Walsh said, “that the U.S. is a maritime nation, and this system is important to the nation’s economy and security. Even though our nation is in a post-affluent era, facing serious fiscal constraints and much public pessimism, we have to figure ways to recapitalize and move forward.”

Sam Angel, commission member from Lake Village, Ark., said Congress’ rush to accede to public demands to eliminate spending “earmarks” has hampered ongoing support for many infrastructure programs.

“Earmarks could’ve cured a lot of the problems we’ve heard about,” he said. “We’ve got to keep this river system funded and operating. We don’t want to have to start shutting down vital facilities.”