Rio Grande do Sul has a significant waterway network, concentrated in the east of the State, in Guaíba and Litorânea hydrographic basins. The main navigable rivers in these basins are: Jacuí and Taquari; Sinos, Caí and Gravataí are used to a lesser extent; and Guaíba Lake and Patos Lagoon are used almost exclusively for the transport of cargoes through public and private terminals. The main public Ports are Portos de Rio Grande, Pelotas, Porto Alegre and Estrela, where there are also Private Use Terminals (Terminais de Uso Privativo – TUPs). At present there are also TUPs distributed along waterways outside public ports with increasing cargo movement.
Likewise rail transport, its main competitor is road transport, although its use is indicated for the movement of large volumes of cargo over long distances. The option for the predominance of road transportation led to underutilization of the waterway modal in Brazil and Rio Grande do Sul. Its participation in the transport modal matrix is approximately 13% in Brazil and 3% in RS *. However, it is considered by planners and technicians of the transport sector as an important link in the logistics chain for the transportation of cargo with great potential for growth, since it is properly connected to road and rail modals by cargo transfer centers.
The transport of passengers by waterway in Guaíba Lake was resumed in 2011, after 50 years of interruption**, linking Porto Alegre and Guaíba municipalities. Regarding navigation through the basins of Uruguai and Jacuí rivers, it is restricted crossings of passengers and vehicles by ferry or other smaller vessels, although there is potential for development of both regular and tourist transport.
The main water route of the State is between Porto Alegre and Rio Grande municipalities, presenting a draft of 5.2 meters. The most significant cargoes transported towards the Port of Rio Grande are petrochemicals, soybean meal and oil and cellulose. Towards the Port of Porto Alegre fertilizers, salt, clinker and paper reels stand out.
The Port of Rio Grande has a draft of 40 feet. The public pier called Porto Novo, with 31 feet and 2 km length, offers excellent availability of berthing. It is a reference for MERCOSUR countries and also the main point of multimodality in the State, what turns the region into a junction point for part of the state road and rail systems. The multimodality of the Port of Rio Grande is a significant factor in the reduction of costs and increase of logistics efficiency, according to SUPRG – Superintendência do Porto de Rio Grande (Superintendence of the Port of Rio Grande). Rio Grande is consolidated as the second largest Brazilian port regarding container handling and the third in cargo handling, with an average volume that reached 38.2 million tons in 2016. Soybean in grain is the main product shipped in tons, reaching 24% of the total handling of the Port.
* PNLT (Plano Nacional de Logística e Transportes – National Plan of Logistics and Transports), 2012 (Final Report) and PELT-RS (Plano Estadual de Logística e Transportes – State Plan of Logistics and Transports), 2014
**The crossing by ferry was ceased in the early 1960s, after the construction of a bridge and the consolidation of the hegemony of road transport over the other modals.