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Economic impact of dredging a river versus environmental impact

Updated on December 25, 2013

The Scenerio

You are the Regional Director of a governmental agency regulating environmental policy, and your agency is preparing an environmental impact statement regarding a dredging project. How you would balance the local environmental impact of the project against the global benefits of increased world trade. Is the environmental cost worth the benefit?

As a regional landmark, such as a river, changes throughout the decades, the needs of the port to maintain the import and export capabilities outweighs the environmental impact required to maintain that port. A loss of said port could and would impact local and world economies as the loss of trade and business opportunities would be felt throughout the Eastern seaboard and all of Florida. Our port has far reaching implications in its function as a gateway of logistical prowess throughout the South and further through the powerful connections of rail, highway, and water routes that support the United States in its import and export activities.


What is Dredging?

Dredging is defined as a removing technique or activity that is usually done at least partially underwater. This is done with the purpose of picking up bottom sand, sediments, and debris and moving it to another location. This is often done to keep waterways and lanes of major transportation navigable.

To Dredge or Not to Dredge

Would you support the deepening of a river through dredging?

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Regional Impacts

Because all sides involved in environmental and trade interests are moving towards society welfare improvements, the environmental concerns must be taken into consideration when discussing dredging and the impacts upon increased world trade. While environmental cost to a local region should be investigated prior to a project being considered, it is plausible to find an equitable solution to complete a dredging project with minimal environmental endangerment and continued support of the local environment. Dredging is accomplished based on the need to maintain the depth of harbors, ports, channels and rivers to continue safe passage for trade routes. The EPA’s guideline on dredging would be thoroughly observed and any dredging taking place should increase its stringent environmental policies to ensure that minimal damage is done to the local environment, even at the cost of additional funding being needed to complete the project. An increase in world trade through the direct effect of dredging would create new prospects for the use of an enormous resource, the impact of not dredging however could be deemed to be too great for both local and world economies.


Clean Water Act

In the US, the Clean Water Act sets the requirements for dredging. Dredging is only allowed by permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. The environmental impact of dredging is closely monitored in licensed areas using automatic GPS systems.

Set into law in 1972, the Clean Water Act is the main federal law that governs water pollution. The act establishes the goals of eliminating the release of high amounts of toxic substances into water, eliminating any additional water pollution by 1985 and ensuring that surface waters would meet standards set for human sport and recreation by 1983. Dredging falls under the Clean Water Act.

Arguments against Dredging

  • Local environment
  • Cost
  • Transportation inconvenience

Arguments for Dredging

  • Needs of local economy
  • More trade
  • Expansion of port regions

Environmental Impacts

"Comparing dredged and undredged sections of the Allegheny River, reduced populations of fish and less variety of aquatic life occurred in areas where gravel extraction took place, according to researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences." Article: Research shows river dredging reduced fish numbers, diversity

Economic Effects

Currently, the Mississippi River draft is reduced to 44 feet, one foot less than the draft authorized by Congress. Ryan's calculations show that operating the river at that level for a year would lead to a loss of about $455.2 million in direct spending. Article: Study examines impact of restrictions on dredging the Mississippi River

A markerBlount Island, Jacksonville, FL, USA -
get directions

Jacksonville, FL is a great example of a region currently discussing dredging


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