NLEP & ULM Unveil Economic Impact Study for Ouachita and Black River System
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    December 19, 2017

    NLEP & ULM Unveil Economic Impact Study for Ouachita and Black River System


    MONROE, La
    . — The Ouachita-Black River System Economic Impact Study, conducted by University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) Center for Business and Economic Research and funded by the North Louisiana Economic Partnership (NLEP), finds that the Ouachita River generates a significant economic impact.  According to the economic impact study, unveiled today (December 19, 2017) at a ULM-NLEP joint news conference, commercial use of the Ouachita River produces nearly $5.7 billion annually in economic activity with $5.5 billion coming from industrial enterprises, like paper, chemical and electricity.  

    Additionally, the study finds that the Ouachita-Black River system produces the following economic impacts:
    • $1.2 billion worth of household income to Louisiana and Arkansas  ̶  $1.14 billion comes from industrial enterprises (e.g., paper, chemical and electricity)
    • 21,000 full-time jobs created by the commercial use of the Ouachita River  ̶  20,000 of the jobs are connected to industrial enterprises (e.g., paper, chemical and electricity)
    “The Ouachita River has historically been a major economic channel for commerce and economic development in Northeast Louisiana,” said Scott Martinez, CEcD, NLEP President. “Manufactured products, agricultural commodities and raw materials are barged up and down the Ouachita River headed to national and international destinations. This joint study by ULM and NLEP proves just how important keeping the Ouachita River navigable and maintaining the hours of operations are to our region’s economy.”

    The study will be submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the goal of maintaining the water levels and hours of operation of the river system. The results of this nearly 12-month study could play a key role in keeping the Ouachita River navigable.

    “We are very pleased that Dr. Robert Eisenstadt and Dr. Paul Nelson of the ULM Center for Business and Economic Research worked with the North Louisiana Economic Partnership on this project,” said President Nick J. Bruno, University of Louisiana at Monroe. “We believe future decisions based on this study will improve not only our economy, but the natural resources we have in the Ouachita and Black River system.”
    Barge traffic on the Ouachita and Black Rivers is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Mississippi by a system of four locks and dams that maintains the navigation channel at a depth that allows for barge traffic year-round.  The locks and dams operate along 337 miles of waterway, keeping the navigation channel at a minimum depth of 9 feet and a width of 100 feet from the Red River north to Camden, Arkansas. Continued federal funding for the locks and dams is vital to keeping the Ouachita River navigable. This economic impact study will be an important tool in efforts to maintain the level of funding for the Ouachita and Black River waterway system.

    “The study confirmed what we at ORVA always believed," said Randy Denmon, President, Ouachita River Valley Association. “That the value of the water in the Ouachita River, at least as it pertains to our economic livelihood in North Louisiana and South Arkansas, is extremely significant. But the numbers came out even higher than I expected. The value of the water alone was over five billion dollars, most of it for industrial uses, which constitutes almost 10% of the average household income in the area. This is something we certainly need to make all efforts to preserve.” 

    Reduction in the level of service at the locks over the past three years, the lack of dredging, and lower demand due to the economy have reduced the amount of tonnage on the river system.  With tonnage dropping below 1 million tons annually, the Ouachita waterway is considered “low use” which impacts our federal funding to keep the River navigable. Competition for limited federal funds could jeopardize the operations of the locks and dams along the Ouachita-Black Rivers, placing the waterway in “care-taker” status.
    “Navigation, while important, represents a just one aspect of the value of the Ouachita-Black River,” said Robert Eisenstadt, PhD, ULM Center for Business and Economic Research. “The Ouachita-Black River’s considerable economic contributions to our area come from the industrial use of a reliably-maintained deep-channel river system. Reliability of water for industrial input, as well as a reliable flow rate for dispersal of discharge help to ensure cost advantages that help keep existing paper, chemical, and electrical utility companies competitive and operating in our region.”
    The Ouachita River provides an industrial water supply for major employers like Graphic Packaging International in West Monroe. Communities also discharge their waste water into the Ouachita River. Waste water permits and the amount of pollutants allowed to be discharged into the River are based on the volume of water and the rate of flow of the River. A high volume, swift-moving river can dilute higher amounts of waste water discharge. Otherwise, communities will have to spend more on water treatment.
     “A minimum maintained water level in the Ouachita is absolutely vital for our region,” said Paul Nelson, PhD, Associate Professor of Economics and co-author of the Ouachita-Black River Economic Impact Study. “Over 20,000 jobs in Louisiana and Arkansas are at risk should industrial users lose reliable access to the River.”
    The Ouachita River is also a source of drinking water for Monroe, Sterlington, Richwood and other communities. Low water levels could prevent these communities from using the River for potable water, forcing them to draw from the already stressed Sparta Aquifer.  Download a full copy of the Ouachita-Black River Economic Impact Report.

    About North Louisiana Economic Partnership
    North Louisiana Economic Partnership, an Accredited Economic Development Organization, provides professional economic development services to the 14 parish region of North Louisiana, including lead generation and prospect management. The organization also represents the interests of North Louisiana with a unified voice and as a single point of contact. It acts as a catalyst, a convener, and a connector in the region to ensure that North Louisiana’s economic development potential is realized. Its vision is for North Louisiana to be a thriving region-a destination for high quality talent, innovative companies, and global investment.

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