The river is falling, but the high water event of 2019 isn’t over yet. Decisions will need to be made not only for response to this record event but for planning for the future. The Mississippi River Network (MRN) is committed to facilitating public participation in this process.

An important series of meetings are providing the chance for River Citizens and the general public to participate in the decision-making process regarding next steps on the Upper Mississippi River.

Record flooding occurred in 2019 on the Mississippi River.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA), and the upper river states has been holding a series of public meetings over July and August in river communities: Hannibal, Missouri; Muscatine, Iowa; Dubuque, Iowa; Winona, Minnesota; and Godfrey, Illinois. The final meeting will be held in Cape Girardeau, Missouri on September 7.

These meetings are focused on three main issues involving the river and future management: flood, drought, and sediment. They provide the opportunity for local citizens to have input on local and regional action that will define resiliency for the Mississippi River. MRN’s main focus is on flood planning and response, but all three issues are related and interconnected in management of the river system. (Recall that the 2011 flood was followed by a major drought in 2012.)

The Big River near Bellevue, IA.

For those unable to attend the meetings, no worries, you can still submit a comment on the USACE website here. We encourage anyone to make their voice heard and submit comments (helpful instructions on how to submit at the bottom of this page). Continue reading to get caught up to speed on the current issues and priorities!

Key Issues and Opportunities for Upper Mississippi River

We want to provide you with information on the two key issues that the Mississippi River Network is emphasizing: the need to expand the use of natural flood infrastructure, and the need for a coordinated river response among all parties. Please feel free to take any of the information you read in this blog post and use it to submit your comments.

Expanding the use of natural flood infrastructure – A record amount of water has moved through the Mississippi River system (which includes the Missouri and Ohio River basins) this year, with major impacts from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The need for expanding natural flood infrastructure – reconnecting floodplains, along with protecting and restoring wetlands along the river and its tributaries – has never been clearer.

Wetlands absorb floodwaters and reduce flood risk and damage to nearby communities.

As examples of natural infrastructure and its benefits, we can look at the public lands and waters along the river that have been submerged this year – National Wildlife Refuges, State Conservation and Wildlife Areas, and national, state, and local parks. These areas have held and conveyed water that would otherwise have impacted lives and property. They also help to take pressure off levees during periods of high water. You can include in your comments local examples of natural flood infrastructure that you’re aware of.

Planning for future events of the same magnitude will require making room for the river– an approach that utilizes floodplains and wetlands to provide areas to hold water. There are important collateral benefits to this approach, such as cleaner water and expanded wildlife habitat. The fiscal benefits of natural flood infrastructure as a more cost-effective form of flood planning and response are especially relevant since the price of built infrastructure continues to rise.

A coordinated response among all interests – federal and state agencies, local governments, communities, private industry, and landowners – is needed for several reasons. Actions on one part of the river can have impacts on other parts, upstream, downstream, and across the channel. A major problem on the Upper Mississippi is the attempt by some interests to unilaterally raise levees. Levees can protect the areas behind them, but their side effects – raising the water level and increasing the flow rate – can significantly impact their nearby neighbors and areas upstream and downstream.

All interests need to work with the Corps to ensure a coordinated response that follows federal rules, state laws, and local ordinances, along with the best river science. An open and transparent process is necessary for responsible decision-making to happen, especially for decisions whose impacts are basin-wide. MRN commends the Corps for holding these meetings to help ensure an open process – they need to hear from you!

How to Give Feedback and Submit Comments

First, open the USACE website here. Then, go to the “Comment Here” tab to get instructions on submitting comments. “Flood Risk Management” is one of the three options, where you’ll see a “Submit a Report” option where you can write your comments, with a series of maps showing features of the Upper Mississippi River.  Review the points above for assistance.

-Doug Daigle, Policy Manager, Mississippi River Network

Looking for other ways to get involved? Check out the Action Center and make sure you are signed up as a River Citizen – the guardians and caretakers dedicated to protecting the wildlife, water, land, and people of America’s greatest river, the Mississippi!