INDIANAPOLIS — Of the five locks and dams on the Ohio River along Indiana’s southern border, several are operating at twice their intended lifespan.

A closure of just one of these locks could cost farmers — and other industries such as coal and petroleum — millions in lost revenue.

Nearly 300 grain farmers and industry representatives recently attended the sixth annual Ohio River Tour, which took them through the Markland Lock and Dam system near Switzerland County to see the impact river transportation has on the agriculture economy firsthand.

With more than 51.8 million tons of grain shipped on the Ohio River annually, the Indiana Soybean Alliance Membership and Policy Committee and the Indiana Corn Growers Association organized the event to educate farmers about the importance of river transportation to their bottom line and to Indiana’s economy.

“Barge transportation on waterways is the most economical and most environmentally friendly way to move corn and soybeans to foreign and domestic markets,” said Joe Steinkamp, chairman of the ISA Membership and Policy Committee and farmer from Evansville. “The Ohio River serves as a major mover of the eastern Corn Belt’s corn and soybeans to out of state and out of country markets, and it’s important that this system stays viable in order to keep farmers viable.”

The tour came just before some comprehensive waterways legislation was set to come before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Last spring, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive Water Resources Development Act, which makes significant progress in repairing and revitalizing the nation’s aging waterways infrastructure.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 on Sept. 19.

The bill now will head to the floor of House of Representatives. Leadership has indicated the bill will come to the floor in early October.

“ISA and ICGA strongly support passage of waterways legislation that can help us repair and revitalize our aging waterways infrastructure,” said Herb Ringel, ICGA president and farmer from Wabash. “We need a healthy waterways infrastructure to move our grain to market and will work to see that the WRRDA bill is passed so that we can maintain our competitiveness in global markets.”

Although there appears to be strong support from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for WRRDA, all members of the House of Representatives need to be reminded that the river infrastructure and inland waterways system are vital for the agriculture industry and the economy, said Katie Thomas Glick, ISA and ICGA public affairs program manager.

“It is essential that farmers call the Capitol Switchboard and encourage their congressman or woman to support the new Water Resources Reform and Development Act,” she said. “The river tour could not have come at a better time to encourage farmers to take action, and we hope other farmers in the state will follow suit.”