The Nature Conservancy (TNC), through the Great Rivers Partnership, and the Mississippi Valley Division of the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) unveiled research results today that demonstrate a strong interest and perceived need among leaders in commercial navigation, agriculture, tourism, natural resources, non-government and government organizations to collaborate more effectively to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Mississippi River.
Key findings from the study, conducted by the Meridian Institute, suggest that greater cooperation at the scale of the entirety of the Mississippi River Basin (comprised of waterways in 31 states and two provinces) will be essential to addressing the many economic and ecological issues impacting America's largest watershed and to ensuring its long-term vitality. Research indicated that river users largely agree that ecological, social and economic factors must all be thoughtfully considered in the development of shared priorities for the river, which differs from the current approach which too often results in priorities developed through a more regional or even isolated interest approach.
Research also suggested that while current informal and formal partner coordination has been effective to a degree, a shared vision for ecosystem health and economic vitality across the whole basin is advisable to best serve the public interest. Respondents agreed that an enhanced, concentrated coordination of activities that impact the river and of federal and non-federal programs that manage the river can turn a shared vision into reality. In particular, interests with river responsibilities need to be more integrated across jurisdictions, agencies and interest sectors; more facile and responsive to today's problems; and able to foster the public interest by reference to nationally established goals and plans that best utilize and preserve this vital global resource.
"Ingram Barge and others in the commercial navigation community are very interested in continuing to work collaboratively with the many and diverse stakeholders of the Mississippi River system toward a shared vision and institutional structure that preserves the river's multiple uses as an artery for commerce, recreation, power generation, water supply, and aquatic habitat, while ensuring the long term viability and heath of the entire watershed," said Dan Mecklenborg, Senior Vice President of Ingram Barge. "A process that facilitates better understanding among the various interests will help foster the trust-based relationships on which a consensus vision can be built."
Forty-three individuals whose interests represent the diverse make-up of stakeholders in the Mississippi River Basin were interviewed as part of the study. The research built upon a series of meetings that the USACE, the Mississippi River Commission, and other federal agencies concerned with the sustainable management of the river have held during the past two years to discuss the concept of a long-term, intergenerational shared vision. It was funded by the Great Rivers Partnership, a collaborative effort initiated in 2005 to focus on sustainability of the Mississippi River system and similar great rivers around the world. Partners include universities and government agencies including the Corps and U.S. Geological Survey, and businesses including Caterpillar, Ingram Barge and Monsanto.
"The Mississippi River provides great value to the people of our nation, from clean water to navigation, flood control, agriculture and wildlife habitat," said Jim Hannon, deputy director of regional business for the USACE. "So one of our biggest challenges in the Mississippi Valley is finding the right balance among these sometimes competing uses of the river. No single entity, agency or organization has all the answers, but if we work collectively, we believe we will engage people and be able to instill a renewed recognition in the value that the Mississippi brings to our nation."
As a first step towards establishing a shared vision statement and management strategy for the watershed, there will be a session at the America's Inner Coast Summit in St. Louis from June 22-24th with a focus on generating discussion around the vision. The Summit will bring together diverse river stakeholders who have a vested interest in developing sustainable river projects and initiatives.
"The time is right for this kind of collaborative thinking around the Mississippi," acknowledged Michael Reuter of The Nature Conservancy and director of the Great Rivers Partnership. "The challenges around water management are increasingly obvious, and we all have a very important stake in the health of the Mississippi River. We recognize that there are uncomfortable challenges associated with assessing trade-offs and creating a common vision, but no one wins if we lose the economic and ecological vitality of this river. So we need to work together to create more effective institutional structures and coordinate management across jurisdictions, agencies and interest sectors."
The Mississippi River is a critical natural resource. At 2,320 miles it ranks as one of the world's largest rivers supplying eighteen million people with drinking water and linking agricultural, timber, coal and other producers to markets around the world. Each year, the Mississippi River valley generates more than $12 billion in agricultural and forest products and $213 billion in manufacturing goods. Anglers, boaters, hunters, bird-watchers, tourists, and other enthusiasts pour another $20 billion into the 10 states that border the river. The river also supports a myriad of wildlife. It is a vital migration corridor for 40 percent of all North American waterfowl and 60 percent of North America's bird species. In all, the Mississippi River basin supports 25 percent of all fish species in North America and a high diversity of freshwater mussels.
The Mississippi Valley Division of the Army Corps of Engineers
The Mississippi Valley Division is responsible for water resources engineering solutions in a 370,000-square-mile area, extending from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and encompassing portions of 12 states. Work is carried out by district offices located in St. Paul, Minnesota; Rock Island, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; Vicksburg, Mississippi; and New Orleans, Louisiana. BUILDING STRONG www.mvd.usace.army.mil.
Since 1879, the seven-member Presidentially appointed Mississippi River Commission has developed and matured plans for the general improvement of the Mississippi River from the Head of Passes to the Headwaters. The Mississippi River Commission brings critical engineering representation to the drainage basin, which impacts 41% of the United States and includes 1.25 million square miles, over 250 tributaries, 31 states, and 2 Canadian provinces. Listening, Inspecting, Partnering and Engineering since 1879
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
The Nature Conservancy
(612) 331-0747 or (612) 845-2744
Mississippi River Valley Commission
Mississippi Valley Division
US Army Corps of Engineers