To some, it might seem an unlikely partnership, but to The Nature Conservancy and the navigation community, joining forces for a sustainable Mississippi River just makes good sense.
Draining roughly one-third of the continental United States, the Mississippi is one of the hardest working rivers in the world. It sustains wildlife and human life, including more than 15 million people who rely on the river and its tributaries for drinking water. It transports corn, soybeans, coal, oil and other products — valued at more than $55 billion annually — across America's heartland and beyond.
The river is also a vital migration corridor for 40 percent of all North American waterfowl and supports a high diversity of fish and freshwater mussels.
Over the years, however, heavy human use of the Mississippi has taken a toll. The long-term health of this precious freshwater resource depends on our ability to better integrate human activities with the river's ecosystem.
The Nature Conservancy and Waterways Council Inc., a national public policy organization composed of members of the nation's inland navigation community, are collaborating on several fronts to maintain the economic, ecological and cultural benefits of a healthy Mississippi River:
Policy: Starting in 2006, a coalition including navigation interests, state governments, the Conservancy and other conservation partners has been urging Congress to appropriate funds to implement the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program.
This long-term program will help ease traffic congestion by improving the navigation system. It will also improve the health of the Mississippi by providing funding for water level drawdowns on pools behind locks and dams, island-building to slow river currents and create terrestrial and aquatic habitat, and floodplain restoration.
Projects: In June 2009, Ingram Barge Company announced a significant multi-year contribution to the Conservancy to support freshwater conservation of the Mississippi River. The Conservancy will use the contribution to launch a project at the confluence of the Mississippi River, Obion Creek and Bayou Du Chien in Fulton County, Kentucky. The project has the potential to restore and reconnect more than 18,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests and wetlands to the Mississippi River alluvial floodplain over the next five years.
People: The issues facing the Mississippi River are complex and cannot be adequately addressed by one or even a few entities working in isolation. Engaging people and partners from all sectors of society is key to the long-term sustainability of the Mississippi River. The Conservancy and the navigation community are exploring ways to communicate with our members and supporters about a sustainable Mississippi River and ways to build a more informed, active and effective constituency for the river over time.
"Through sharing and collaboration, we magnify our impact on freshwater conservation," said Michael Reuter, the Conservancy's director of conservation programs in the Central U.S. Region.
"We are pleased to have the navigation community as a partner in achieving our vision of a sustainable Mississippi River, one that continues to meet our needs for food, water, transportation and recreation while ensuring that the river and its floodplain are healthy now and in the future."