Six mayors along the Charleston County coast have launched an effort to get the silted Intracoastal Waterway fixed.

Theirs is a commendable emergency measure to restore marine traffic, both commercial and recreational, to the key north-south artery.

They hope to convince Charleston County Council to use accommodations tax and transportation sales tax revenues to dredge the most troubled areas - near McClellanville and the Isle of Palms near Breach Inlet.

Then they hope the state will find a long-term way to keep this vital waterway open.

But it's the state's congressional delegation that needs to put the most muscle into solving the problem.

Keeping the Intracoastal Waterway operational is the responsibility of the federal government, just as it is the federal government's responsibility to keep the interstate highways operational.

Of the Atlantic states, South Carolina ranks last in federal funding for waterway dredging. Indeed, it has not happened at all in the past few years, according to an article from reporter Prentiss Findlay.

Our congressmen have made a concerted effort to obtain funding to deepen the Charleston harbor shipping channel. They should also be working to find funding to dredge the waterway.

Meanwhile, Charleston County Councilman Dickie Schweers is being pragmatic. This is an emergency. In McClellanville, 30 fishing and shrimping vessels are in danger of being trapped and unable to ply their trade. Already barges in some areas of the waterway can be used only just before and just after high tide.

Charleston County Council must not ignore the issue. As Mr. Schweers points out, the accommodations tax is intended to enhance tourism, and certainly the waterway brings tourists to the area. Also, the county's transportation sales tax would be appropriately used to keep marine transportation viable.

The initial estimate is that work would cost a minimum of $1 million. Mr. Schweers is working to get a more precise number before pitching his idea to council.

The facts couldn't be much more compelling: The waterway, which is supposed to be 12 feet deep at low tide, is only a foot deep in some areas. And it was the federal government that built the corridor long before the interstate highway system was built. The waterway was designed to provide a safe inland route for marine traffic.

As such, its maintenance should not be a guessing game from year to year - will funds be available? If so, will it be enough?

The Army Corps of Engineers has the necessary permit and the contacts to get the dredging done, but can't move forward without funding.

Some states, including Florida and North Carolina, have dedicated state money for maintenance of the waterway. Leaders recognize that the waterway generates billions of dollars each year. And paying to maintain it is better than waiting for the federal government to do its job - if it ever will.

Charleston County Council should recognize the many benefits its citizens derive from a functional intracoastal waterway - economic and recreational - and should allocate funds to keep it flowing.

The state should do serious study about the value of the waterway to all of South Carolina, and consider ways to help financially, as well.

And the S.C. congressional delegation must make as many waves as necessary to ensure that the federal government takes care of its own important resources.