The long-awaited Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) passed the full Senate July 19, putting it on track for congressional approval. The bill now heads to a House-Senate conference committee before moving to the President for final approval. One of the new components of WRDA authorizes $1.6 billion for ecosystem restoration along navigable portions of the Upper Mississippi (north of Cairo, Ill., to Minneapolis, Minn.) and Illinois rivers.
“The passage of WRDA represents an important milestone in The Nature Conservancy’s efforts to protect and restore the Upper Mississippi River Basin,” said Michael Reuter, director of the Conservancy’s Great Rivers Partnership (GRP). “We applaud all of the senators and congressional representatives who recognized the benefits of this legislation – creating and enhancing habitat for native species, improving water quality, reducing the risk of flooding and increasing recreational opportunities.”
The ecosystem restoration portion of WRDA, the Navigation Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP), contains important elements that contribute to the ecological health of the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers.
Potential NESP projects include building islands to slow river currents and creating terrestrial and aquatic habitat, restoring floodplains, lowering water levels during the summer to promote the growth of native vegetation, controlling harmful invasive species, dredging side channels and backwaters, and constructing fish passages.
In addition to NESP, WRDA also authorizes important changes that will assist the Conservancy in reconnecting the Illinois River to its floodplain at the Merwin Preserve at Spunky Bottoms, and restoring the Emiquon Preserve. Both floodplain restoration projects are located in central Illinois and rank among the largest wetland restoration projects in the country.
WRDA passed with bipartisan support from Midwest senators, including Kit Bond (R-Missouri), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Barack Obama (D-Illinois), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Jim Talent (R-Missouri), who were all instrumental in passing the bill.
Sen. Bond acknowledged his colleagues’ contribution on the Senate floor. He said, “I am pleased to join the bipartisan group of Senators who agree that we must improve the efficiency and the environmental sustainability of our great resources…Of particular note, I appreciate the strong support from the carpenters, laborers, operating engineers, Iron Workers, Teamsters, The Nature Conservancy, the National Audubon Society, and the construction and energy and agriculture people."
According to the National Research Council, the Mississippi and Illinois rivers are two floodplain rivers that could, with proper management and restoration, become healthy rivers again. The Conservancy has invested more than $53 million in land conservation across the basin during the last few decades and continues to invest several million dollars annually.
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.