Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Slay Hopeful 'Report Card' Spurs Action on Mississippi River

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Slay Hopeful 'Report Card' Spurs Action on Mississippi River

Article excerpt

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay hopes a new report on the Mississippi River watershed will spur renewed attention to country's largest river system.

Written in the style of a report card, the authors said the condition of the river's infrastructure, environment and indicators merited a D+.

"A 'D+' is really nothing to be proud of, but it does give us direction and it does give us a sense of urgency," Slay said.

The results of a years-long study from America's Watershed Initiative, a group made up of environmentalists, business and government interests, were released Wednesday at a conference in St. Louis. Backers aim to use the report card to track progress on fixing aging infrastructure, deteriorating ecosystems and rising flood risk.

Among the worst-performing areas was navigation infrastructure such as locks and dams, said co-author Heath Kelsey, the director of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

While only 2 to 3 percent of "critical" infrastructure was in failing or "near-failing" condition, one failure could cause a wave of them because of the interconnected system, he said.

Environmental issues are also a problem. The massive "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, a 6,500 square-mile oxygen-deprived area caused largely by agricultural runoff and urban pollution carried by the Mississippi River, was larger than expected this year.

Flood risk also rose, primarily because people continue to move into river floodplains.

"We want to see people actually moving out of the floodplain," Kelsey said.

The group is calling for an additional $1 billion of investment into the Mississippi River watershed, which includes the Mississippi's major tributaries such as the Missouri, Ohio and Illinois rivers. But the additional money, be it for old locks and dams, wetland restoration or failing levees, should come from both government and private sources, said America's Watershed Initiative Director Harald "Jordy" Jordahl.

"We're not going to the federal government and saying, 'You must do this,' " said Jordahl, who helped facilitate the project as an employee of the nonprofit Nature Conservancy. "We're saying, we must do this. …

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