Hello River Citizens,
On October 14th, America’s Watershed Initiative (AWI) released the report card for the entire Mississippi River Watershed. This watershed encompasses thirty-one states and two Canadian Provinces and drains roughly forty percent of the country! That being said, it is a very complex system that has the ability to bring a wide array of stakeholders to the table. More than 400 businesses, associations, government agencies, science organizations, academic institutions and non-profit organizations who are part of America’s Watershed Initiative have worked together over the past two years to produce this Report Card, which is the first of this kind.
That same day, I attended the Upper Mississippi River Conference hosted by River Action in Davenport, Iowa. Over one-hundred folks, high school students to seasoned professionals in the field and business people alike, came together to talk about the ways that we can work together to protect the River that was roughly a quarter of a mile from where we sat. Depending on where you live, some problems are more obvious than others; the same problems in the Mississippi River may be oddly familiar to those that you see in your local creek or watershed. Throughout the valley, we’re seeing high levels of sediment and nutrients, namely nitrate and phosphorus, that are decreasing water quality for millions of people and reducing habitat vitality for fish and birds. For those of you that couldn’t make it to this year’s conference, the biggest take-home message that I got is there isn’t one single solution, and that we need to let nature do its thing if we’re going to pass a healthy Mississippi River onto our grandchildren.
1 Mississippi is in a fortunate position to work with fifty-one organizations, some of whom are part of the AWI report card, whose job is to protect the Mississippi River. This group makes up the Mississippi River Network. From this vast set of expertise and experiences, they have identified restoration efforts as one of the most influential thing people can do to improve and protect the quality of the River. One of the biggest supporters of restoration efforts for the Mississippi River is the Upper Mississippi River Restoration (UMRR) Program also referred to as the Environmental Management Program. Congress authorized the program under the 1986 Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) to address ecological needs on the Upper Mississippi River System. Within the UMRR Program are two main elements: 1) habitat rehabilitation and enhancement projects and 2) long term resource monitoring.
AWI’s report card graded each of the following categories: ecosystems, recreation, economy, water supply, transportation, and flood control & risk reduction. With regards to Ecosystems, we received an overall grade of a C with a goal to “Conserve, enhance and restore ecosystems within the Mississippi River Watershed to support natural habitats and the fish and wildlife resources that depend upon them”. While results of the report card are not unanimous amongst its creators, some even argue that the Ecosystem grade should be lower, it is important to recognize that our River needs help.
Not including the value assigned to various ecosystem services, the Mississippi River is responsible for generating $400 billion in annual revenue; the top three revenue-builders being manufacturing, tourism, and agriculture- over half comes from the Upper Mississippi River System. River restoration projects include wetlands conservation, prairie restoration, streambank and riverbank stabilization, invasive species removal, and providing bird and fish habitat. Because of the UMRR Program, 100,000 acres of habitat along the Mississippi River are managed with the help of many of the agencies that helped to create the report card.
According to Olivia Dorothy, Associate Director with American Rivers, “More than $400 million has been dedicated to make the goals of the program become reality and about 70% of that amount has gone directly to habitat construction… For only $400 million, we are getting well over $1 billion annually in ecosystem service benefits; hundreds of union wage construction jobs; and probably tens of millions has been and will continue to be infused directly into small businesses to support construction and eco-based tourism”.
As a River Citizen who would like to pass along a healthier River than when I found it, I would like to raise the quality of our ecosystems. In order to protect the river in this regard, we are looking to people like you to send a letter of your support for the UMRR Program through our Action Center. Additionally, we can support the efforts of those like Missouri Coalition for the Environment, the Audubon Society, American Rivers, and The Nature Conservancy by connecting with the River, volunteering our time, planting native species, and protecting wetlands from harmful development. For a more comprehensive calendar of events and opportunities, please visit our 1 Mississippi website!
-Jessica Zimmerman, Campaign Coordinator