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Watershed Interests Address Mississippi River's Future

 

Watershed Interests Address Mississippi River's Future

Washington, D.C. roundtable convened by America's WETLAND Foundation calls for action to sustain the "lifeblood of America" 

Washington D.C. - A diverse group of Mississippi River leaders convened by the America's WETLAND Foundation (AWF) gathered today to release findings from its Big River Works leadership forums held over the past 12 months. The committee called on the nation to be bold in setting a new course for sustaining one of its greatest resources.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu - D-La., spoke to the Washington D.C. roundtable addressing the political will and collaboration needed to help create a sustainable and healthy Mississippi River system. "The Mississippi River works," said Sen. Landrieu. "It works for us every day moving the commerce that powers Louisiana and our nation's economy. Through GOMESA, I've gotten the federal government to begin to smartly share oil and gas production revenues to provide a steady, reliable source of funding that can address some of the major infrastructure problems along our coast and the big River. I'll continue to work with America's WETLAND Foundation and local leaders to join together and support the great River and the Louisiana wetlands area."

Gathered from more than 400 participants who attended the leadership forums held along the river in cities from Minneapolis to New Orleans, the initiative revealed a number of common concerns and beliefs among the river's many users. Representatives from every level of  government, NGOs, business and industry agreed the Mississippi River system must be managed as a single ecosystem, or it will continue to deteriorate, jeopardizing the immense benefits it provides nationwide.

Major General John Peabody, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Deputy Commanding General for Civil and Emergency Operations and former President of the Mississippi River Commission, emphasized the importance of watershed-scale cooperation, given that 31 states are connected to the Mississippi River watershed. "The Mississippi River Watershed is a key reason for the economic and ecologic wealth of the United States, so a common vision for its use is critical.  The profound contrast between the 1927 and 2011 floods proves the value of both a clear vision, and the importance of investing in infrastructure in advance of crises," Peabody said.

The Big River Works forums generated a number of insights as leaders discussed how to develop a common vision for the Mississippi and four overarching strategies emerged and were addressed: 

 

       I.  Develop a comprehensive approach to Mississippi River health and sustainability

 

      II.  Encourage cooperative action for Mississippi River system health and sustainability

 

     III.  Coordinate national approach to Mississippi Watershed governance

 

   IV.  Engage the public to build political will

 

"These aims represent consensus thinking developed through research, focus groups, interviews and months of conversations," R. King Milling, chairman of the America's WETLAND Foundation, said in presenting the initiative's findings. "They are ambitious but so is the scope of action necessary to maintain the long-term health and productivity of the Mississippi River and its delta. We are running out of time."

"Given the increasing demands on our water resources, we need to continue to think strategically about our waters as we work together to develop innovative approaches to managing nutrients and improving watershed health throughout the Mississippi River Basin," said Ellen Gilinsky, Environmental Protection Agency Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Water. 

U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills also spoke in favor of more cooperative resource management throughout the watershed. "Agriculture plays a tremendous role in this basin. Bringing together a diverse network of public and private partners who are committed to improving the Mississippi River is important in conserving our nation's largest river system," Mills said. "The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is a bold new opportunity that offers communities in the Mississippi River Basin-which Secretary Vilsack recently designated as a Critical Conservation Area-a chance to accelerate conservation on their terms." 

Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, one of the chairs of the Congressional Mississippi River Caucus, summed up the call to action. "The Mississippi River is a crucial source of water for 18 million people, as well as a diverse habitat for wildlife and a vital artery for our national economy. To meet the increasing demands placed on it by so many interests and economic sectors, the river's health as an ecosystem must be maintained," Harkin said. "The nation should place a renewed emphasis on the Mississippi River's significance, and continue building a diverse coalition dedicated to saving the river for future generations." 

Dale Hall, Ducks Unlimited CEO and board member of the America's WETLAND Foundation, said, "The Mississippi River serves as one of four major U.S. flyways for migratory waterfowl and songbirds.  The habitat it provides is globally significant and it is our duty to ensure its health, not just for ourselves, but for those who will depend upon it and be enriched by it for many generations to come." 

"Everyone has a stake in seeing the Mississippi River remains viable," said Illinois Lt. Governor Sheila Simon, chair of the state's Mississippi River Coordinating Council. "We believe the best way to accomplish that is to build on existing public-private partnerships and develop a multi-state governance structure that allows for the integration of the river's diverse users."

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The America's WETLAND Foundation manages the largest, most comprehensive public education campaign in Louisiana's history, raising public awareness of the impact of Louisiana's wetland loss on the state, nation and world. The America's Energy Coast initiative works to sustain the environmental and economic assets of the Gulf Coast region. The initiative is supported by a growing coalition of world, national and state conservation and environmental organizations and has drawn private support from businesses that see wetlands protection as a key to economic growth. For more information, visit www.americaswetland.com or www.futureofthegulfcoast.org.

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