Navigation-Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP), Upper Miss System

The Navigation-Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) is an innovative program addressing the long overdue needs of both navigation and habitat of the Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS), whose two major rivers are the Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway. In the Water Resources Development Act of 1986, Congress declared the UMRS as a nationally significant commercial navigation system and a nationally significant ecosystem.



U.S. Army Corps of Engineers NESP Consultation Committee




The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District shared the many accomplishments of the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) in 2023. The program made great progress on both navigation and ecosystem projects, continuing to advance towards the goal of #NESP, “Long-term sustainability for the navigation and ecosystem uses of the Upper Mississippi River”. Learn more from USACE Rock Island District.







  • The locks on the Upper Mississippi River System were built in the 1930s and 40s for steamboat-era traffic. They are undersized, outdated and deteriorating;
    • 93% of the locks on the Upper Mississippi & Illinois Rivers have outlived their design life of 50 years;
    • Only 3 of the 37 locks on the system are 1,200-feet in length (the length of a typical tow on locking rivers).

 Spread the word on social media: #nespnow



  • WRDA 2007 authorized NESP's 1,200’ lock chambers (twice the length of the existing locks) at 7 key existing 600' lock and dam sites:
    • creating a two-way river so tows can lock through consecutively through both the 1,200’ chamber and existing 600’ chamber;
    • ensuring that even if one lock has to close for repair, tows can still lock through the other chamber;
    • significantly decreasing the time it takes to lock through;
    • significantly decreasing the current wait time for tows outside the lock to wait for the tow to finish locking through (for ex: 3 hrs for 600’ chamber, 30 mins for 1,200’ chamber);
    • making the most environmentally-friendly way of moving commodities even more efficient
  • Commercial users voluntarily and unanimously asked Congress, and achieved, an increase to the user fee (commercial diesel fuel tax) to help replenish the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, to assist in funding NESP and other navigation projects;
  • More than half a million jobs nationwide are supported by our inland waterways (National Waterways Foundation study);
  • Products moving through LaGrange lock travel to 135 counties in 18 states + international destinations.  A closure at LaGrange for a year would increase transportation costs by an additional $1.7B/year, with a loss of $2.1B in farm-dependent income. (National Waterways Foundation;
  • A USDA study released in August 2019 showed if we rebuilt the locks in most need of capital improvements within 10 years, it would inject $72B additional dollars into the nation’s GDP. (attached)






  • The UMRS ecosystem consists of 2.5 million acres of aquatic, wetland, forest, grassland and agricultural habitats. It supports hundreds of species of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish and mussels.
  • More than 40% of North America's migratory birds depend on the food resources, shelter and nesting habitats the UMRS provides. (January 2021 report by U.S. General Accounting Office 
  • The framework for the first 15-year increment of NESP lays out more than 225 ecosystem restoration (out of 1,010 identified) projects on hundreds of thousands of acres that include island building, fish passage, floodplain restoration and reconnection, water level management, side channel and backwater restoration, wing dam/dike alteration, and shoreline protection;

Why expand upstream access and habitat for native migratory fish?  


Learn more about fish passage at L/D 22 here


  • The USGS long-term resource monitoring program indicates we’re losing 2.5% - 3% of existing good habitat annually on the Miss/Illinois Rivers every year.  The current environmental work by the Corps is only replacing it at ½ % of restored habitat per year through the Upper Mississippi River Recovery program;
  • Seasonal variability in water levels is key to maintaining aquatic vegetation that serves as the base of the ecosystem by providing habitat cover and food, stabilizing river islands and banks, and helping improve water quality. There are 12 dams where this approach could be implemented without major modifications. In many cases, using dams to lower water levels as little as 6 inches during the summer can expose thousands of acres of mudflats and trigger the sprouting of dormant seeds;
  • NESP is a multi-pronged approach for restoring our rivers.  Sixty-five backwater areas, stretching from Minneapolis to Cairo, Illinois, along with portions of the Illinois River, would be restored using multiple techniques that collectively reestablish healthy flows, a better mix of shallow and deep marshes, and floodplain islands of varying heights that provide a wide array of habitat types.  







First ecosystem restoration contract awarded Nov 29, 2022 for notching 14 wing dams in Pool 2


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers NESP webpage





NESP brochure by Waterways Council - The Nature Conservancy


See why this is important to America's farmers


Take a look at the locks on the Illinois River


Take a look at the locks on the Mississippi River


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