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Welcome to the J Bennett Johnston Waterway

The Project has formerly been referred to as the Mississippi River to Shreveport, Louisiana, reach of the Red River Waterway. The opening of the waterway to the Shreveport/Bossier City area in December 1994 was the culmination of more than 150 years of effort by local citizens to provide a safe, dependable, navigation system for the Red River.  

Barge in the Red River ChannelThe project generates jobs, stimulates the development of port facilities, increases water related recreational opportunities, prevents further loss of valuable land and infrastructure along the river’s banks and the navigation dams provide a potential source of hydropower.
Both aquatic and waterfowl resources benefit from the project. The Waterway has had a positive impact on the fish and waterfowl population of the region. Increasingly the Waterway is becoming a major flyway for migratory birds  and also has become a prominent fishing area. More information on the environmental features of the project is addressed on the following pages. Barges on the Red River

The project consists of a 9-foot deep by 200-foot wide navigation channel that commences at the confluence of Old and Red Rivers and proceeds upstream for 236 miles to the Shreveport-Bossier City area.  Five navigation locks with usable dimensions of 84-feet wide by 705-feet long provide the necessary lift of approximately 141 feet.  The locks can accommodate a standard 6-barge tow and towboat in a single lockage.

The project also provides for realigning the banks of the Red River by means of dredging, cutoffs, and training works and stabilizing its banks by means of revetments, dikes, and other structural methods.  Facilities to provide recreation and fish and wildlife are also integral to the project.

J Bennett Johnston Waterway Location

J Bennett Johnston Waterway Info

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The J. Bennett Johnston Waterway Project on the Red River in Louisiana is a good example of how the Corps seeks to balance competing priorities. For much of its history the 200+ mile stretch of the Red River between Shreveport, LA, and the Mississippi River was a source of frustration to many residents who lived and worked near it. Commercial tows had a difficult time navigating the river. As a result, the tremendous economic benefits that it could have brought to the area were lost. During heavy rains the river was prone to overflowing its banks, flooding low-lying farmland and towns. And, finally, there were serious erosion problems on long stretches of the river's banks. All of that gradually began to change when the U.S. Congress authorized what has become the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway Project.

Over the past 30 years, the Corps has invested nearly $2 billion in the project, constructing five locks and dams and dredging a 9-foot deep, 200-foot wide navigation channel. The Corps also has stabilized the banks along the 236-mile stretch of river, limiting erosion and preventing loss of valuable lands. The project has stimulated local economies and helped generate thousands of jobs by enabling nearly 4 million tons of cargo to move along the waterway every year. By 2046 that number is expected to rise to 16 million tons. The changes also have greatly reduced the impact of flooding. During one period of heavy rain in 2001, nearly 1 million acres of land were saved from flood damage because of the waterway.
Economic benefits from bank stabilization along this project are estimated at over $38 million annually. Navigational economic benefits are estimated at over $68 million annually at 1982 price levels.

Navigation along the Red River of the 1800’s was treacherous due to the Great Red River Raft.  The Red River raft was a result of the highly erodible soils of the Red River alluvial valley being carved by each high water event on the river.  As the river moved back and forth across its alluvial plain, trees were undermined along the riverbanks and fell into the river.  These trees formed a discontinuous series of logjams that extended approximately 150 miles along the river from the vicinity of present day Natchitoches to the Louisiana-Arkansas State line. The raft artificially raised the banks of the river and forced the creation of numerous distributaries of the Red – evidence of which can still be seen today.  Also formed were numerous raft lakes along the river in low spots along the tributaries to the Red.  These raft lakes were transitory in nature.  Many of these lakes have been lost.  Lake Iatt, Clear-Black and Saline Lakes, Nantachie Lake, Wallace Lake, Lake Bistineau, and Caddo Lake are some of the raft lakes that were preserved by building dams to maintain the lakes.  The raft was not stationary, rather it was inexorably moving upstream at about a fifth of a mile per year.  As pieces of the raft broke up and floated downstream on the lower end, new logs and debris were added to the upper end.  As the channel naturally cleared on the lower end, the Red River channel would deepen and drain the raft lakes and close off the distributaries leaving a single river channel. Piecemeal attempts were made to clear the raft starting in the 1830s.  Portions of the raft would be cleared for a brief period but it would eventually reform.  Captain Henry Miller Shreve dramatically increased the pace of the natural clearing of the logjam with the invention of the snag-boat.  By the mid 1870s, the raft had been cleared.

Steamboats plying the Mississippi River could now go up the Red River to Shreveport and points north as well as west into Texas along Cypress Bayou to Jefferson, Texas.  However as the railroad commerce expanded in the late 1800s, steamboat commerce declined.  Removal of the Red River raft caused the river to scour its channel deeper making the river have unusually high banks.  Because of these unnaturally high banks, bank erosion became a tremendous problem on the river.  Thousands and thousands of acres of productive land would be eroded by the river and deposited downstream as less productive sandbars.  This continual erosion also led to shoaling in the river making navigation treacherous.
In an attempt to improve Red River navigation, Congress authorized the Red River below Fulton, Arkansas Project in 1892.  The project provided for improvements from Fulton, Arkansas to the Atchafalaya River by systematic clearing of banks, snagging, dredging shoals, building levees, closing outlets, revetting caving banks, and preventing injurious cutoffs.  No channel dimensions were specified.

Congress modified the project in 1946 by authorization of the Overton-Red River Waterway.  This project provided for the construction of a 9-foot deep by 100-foot wide navigation channel from the Mississippi River via Old and Red Rivers for about 31 miles, and via a new land cut above river mile 31 generally following existing streams along the right descending bank of the Red River flood plain to a turning basin on Bayou Pierre at Shreveport, Louisiana.  The 205 mile long project consisted of 9 locks 56 feet by 650 feet, a pumping plant, drainage structures and appurtenances.
In 1950, Congress modified the Red River below Fulton Project to provide a channel 9 feet deep by 100 feet wide from the exit point of the Overton Red River Waterway at Mile 31 to the mouth of the Black River at mile 35.5 in connection with the modification of the 9-foot by 100-foot Ouachita-Black River Project from the mouth of the Black River to Camden, Arkansas

The River and Harbor Act of 1968 modified these and other prior projects in authorizing the present day waterway.    The Louisiana Legislature created the Red River Waterway Commission to serve as the project sponsor in the mid 1960s.  The Commission has the responsibility for providing all of the necessary lands for the project purposes.  The project lands remain in State ownership through the Commission except at the lock and dam sites, which will be transferred to Federal ownership.  The Commission continues to work closely with the Corps towards completing construction of the project.  Additionally, they will operate and maintain recreation facilities that are not on Federal land throughout the project area and manage the mitigation lands acquired.


The Red River Waterway provides many opportunities for recreational boating.  One spending a day on the river may pass by party barges, fishing boats, ski boats,  jet ski’s and even sail boats.  Visitors can travel the Red River by locking through the locks and dams located along the river’s path down to the Mississippi River.  These locks are maintained and operated by the Corps of Engineers.  There are no boat launch facilities are available to the public at the locks and dams.


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not offer camping on the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway.  There are camping facilities available on the Red River provided by the Red River Waterway Commission.

Day Use & Fishing

There are numerous picnicking shelters available to the public on all locks and dams on the J. Bennett Johnston
Waterway system.

J. Bennett Johnston Waterway offers visitors an abundance of fishing opportunities.  Visitors can catch their limit of Black Bass, Spotted Bass, Crappie, and various species of catfish, bream and sunfish.  The river is also home to various commercial fish species such as Buffalo, Carp, Gar, and Bowfin.  Success will depend on the seasonal fluctuations in water levels and water conditions (temperature, clearness, etc.).


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is not involved in regulation or management of hunting and fishing activities.  The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under the National Wildlife Refuge System established the The Red River National Wildlife Refuge in 2000 to restore and conserve bottomland hardwood habitats within the Red River valley for native plant and animal communities, migratory waterfowl and songbirds. Currently, the refuge consists of approximately 5,200 acres of bottomlands habitat within the historic Red River floodplain.  The refuge has the potential to conserve and protect approximately 50,000 acres in five separate tracts from the Arkansas state line to Colfax, Louisiana.  In addition to improved fish and wildlife
habitat, the Red River National Wildlife Refuge will also provide excellent opportunities to enjoy wildland recreation and environmental education.  The only two hunting areas along the Red River are at Bayou Pierre and Spanish Lake.

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