What has transformed the river in the last decade is completion of a major Federal river improvement project that straightened the stream, stabilized its banks, eliminated flooding, and made year-round navigation possible.
The $1.9 billion Red River Waterway Project, authorized by Congress in 1968 and completed in 1994, added a series of five lock and dam complexes to the river. These structures perform a stair step effect on the river, creating controllable pools and passageways for river traffic.
Accompanying bank stabilization work and other enhancements have created a navigation channel with a minimum depth of nine feet and a minimum width of 200 feet. Total lift through the five pool stages on the river is more than 140 feet, the equivalent of a 14-story building. The locks and dams are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who also supervise continuing bank stabilization work. A U.S. Coast Guard team stationed at the Colfax lock and dam site is responsible for Aids to Navigation along the river, including buoys and mile markers.
In addition to dramatically improving the river’s commercial viability, the lock and dam project has also resulted in vastly enhanced water quality and recreational opportunities. More than $40 million in local and federal funds have been spent along the river’s route to add such amenities as boat launches, picnic areas, campsites, RV parks and hiking trails. These and other complementary developments are giving rise to new businesses that serve the needs of this growing recreational and tourist market.