The government plans to spend 2.2 trillion pesos (about $1 billion) on the restoration of the Magdalena River, Colombia's most important waterway, President Juan Manuel Santos said.

Bidding on the Magdalena River Navigation Recovery Program is expected to take place before the end of the year under the private-public partnership system, the president said.

Three pre-screened groups made up of Colombian, Dutch, Spanish, Belgian and Brazilian firms will participate in the bidding, Santos said during a ceremony on Saturday.

"We are here to open the way, not with dreams and expectations, but with tangible plans and resources to a new river for a new Colombia - the navigable Magdalena River that (Simon) Bolivar dreamed about and we and coming generations can enjoy," Santos said during the event in the northeastern port city of Barrancabermeja.

Funding for the river's maintenance will come from the general budget and from oil company Ecopetrol, Cormagdalena, city governments and seven of the 13 provinces along the river, the president said.

"The goal is to have a navigable waterway 24 hours a day and 365 days a year from Puerto Salgar to Bocas de Ceniza, a distance of more than 900 kilometers (559 miles)," Santos said.

"By 2019, when we celebrate the bicentennial of the battle in which Bolivar sealed the freedom of Colombia, we will be able to say that his dream has come through and the Magdalena River is the most important communications artery in our territory, and one of the biggest in the Americas," Santos said. EFE