President Joe Biden signed a large defense bill on Friday that includes a water bill that directs the Army Corps of Engineers on major infrastructure projects to improve navigation and protect against storms worsened by climate change.
The biggest project by far this year is a $34 billion Texas coastal barrier featuring massive floodgates and other structures to protect the Houston region with its concentration of oil refineries and chemical plants, at risk during major hurricanes.
The Water Resources Development Act of 2022 also includes a $3.2 billion authorization for a new Soo Lock on the St. Marys River which connects Lake Superior with Lake Huron.
Nearly all U.S. iron ore is mined near Lake Superior, but to create steel and build cars, it needs to travel on large vessels through a single, aging Michigan lock that federal officials have called the Achilles’ heel of the North American industrial economy.
There are two locks operating but only one is big enough to handle the roughly 1,000 feet (305 meters) freighters the industry uses.
“Everything was built around water transport on the Great Lakes,” said Kevin Dempsey, president and CEO of a steel industry group. If the lock fails, it could upend industry and manufacturing, he said. Roads and rail aren’t workable alternatives.
For example, when hurricanes hit, coastal protections can be built with climate change in mind, allowing designers to think about how much seas will rise when they make their plans.
There are numerous other provisions. The bill improves outreach with tribes, allows the Corps to focus more on water conservation in drought-prone areas and supports ecosystem restoration projects. In Michigan, it shifts more of the costs to the federal government for a project aimed at protecting the Great Lakes from invasive carp.