A Call for More Cooperative Mississippi River Management; Big River Initiative; the River System Is an Interconnected One, and It Must Be Managed That Way

Article excerpt

Disasters remind us of what we value most yet often take for granted. They tend to expose our failures as a society to face reality and do what is necessary to safeguard our vital assets. Recent Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac, for instance, served as tragic reminders that our coastal cities are more vulnerable than ever to increasingly powerful storms, sea level rise and coastal erosion.

The year also brought one of the worst droughts in 50 years to the Heartland, where it has decimated crops and continues to haunt the nations farmers and others who rely on the Mississippi River to transport their goods.

By early next month, a shallower Mississippi may impair navigation between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill. This comes at the end of harvest in the Midwest, and it is estimated that if the river shuts down, more than $2 billion in agricultural commodities, such as corn and wheat, will be at risk. Lets be clear; this is not the only segment of the American economy that will suffer.

The river is the lifeblood of both the Midwest and the Gulf South, and its global connections to agriculture, manufacturing, energy and other sectors make it the nations main artery of commerce.

Every day an armada of barges travels the Big River many are at least 300 feet long and haul more than 2,500 tons of grain, petroleum, coal, iron, steel or rock, providing a highly efficient means of transportation and a gateway to global markets through Gulf Coast ports.

In addition to navigation, demands on the river to provide worthwhile services for sometimes competing interests place a heavy burden on its health and sustainability. Commerce and the environment, recreation and transportation, water quality and water supply the Mississippi is expected to service all demands. Over time, this has led to a series of degrading forces and unintended consequences that have stressed the river and its tributaries, threatening the enormous environmental and economic benefits it provides nationwide.

For instance, the same river that transports this countrys agricultural bounty to the world also carries runoff from farm fields and urban areas, such as nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer and animal waste. Throughout the Mississippi watershed, these nutrients eventually arrive in the rivers main stem and flow to the Gulf of Mexico, creating large blooms of algae that essentially choke the Gulf of oxygen. …

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