Five leadership summits to address comprehensive river management
NEW ORLEANS – The America’s WETLAND Foundation launched The Big River Works initiative in New Orleans on Thursday, kicking off a national discussion about treating the Mississippi River as a single system, with the possibility of creating a multi-state compact for comprehensive river management.
“We will focus on connecting the interests of our delta to upriver interests,” said R. King Milling, Foundation chair. “The next step to engage more Americans in restoring our coast will demonstrate the relationship of a healthy delta to the economies and livelihoods of the millions who populate 31 states of the Mississippi River and its tributaries.”
The upriver initiative was recommended during America’s WETLAND Foundation’s five-year-old outreach to Texas, Mississippi and Alabama to build regional support for coastal restoration. “By understanding and supporting a broader Gulf coast landscape, our wetland issues fit in to a larger ecosystem context and we found much more in common than different,” Milling said.
The concept is to work cooperatively to approach the river as one system in need of immediate attention by the 31 states drained by the Mississippi watershed system. America’s WETLAND Foundation will hold forums in Memphis, St. Louis, Minneapolis and Chicago, gathering leaders from business, industry, science, universities, non-profit organizations, and environmental groups to discuss the river.
Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois has signed on as honorary co-chair of The Big River Works Steering Committee. “I encourage everyone to put their best ideas on the table and determine the best course of action for the states that are a part of this watershed to reach agreement on ways to protect this American icon,” Quinn said in a special message to forum participants.
“We are now in the 21st Century dealing with problems that were created 100 years ago,” said Dr. Robert Twilley, Vice President of Research at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, referring to river engineering that set in motion land loss in South Louisiana.
Twilley said there is no way to fix problems downstream unless you fundamentally understand the processes occurring upstream. “Environment, Economy, Equity – no matter what we talk about, if you want something that is sustainable, you have to appreciate all three of these,” Twilley said.
“Our agenda is simple – to highlight the many good works and initiatives along the Mississippi River watershed and to work cooperatively, approaching the river as one system in need of immediate attention to keep it healthy and working,” said Valsin A. Marmillion, America’s WETLAND Foundation managing director.
“Through The Big River Works: Building Cooperation to Sustain the Mississippi River System, we will bring together key stakeholders for an analysis of the Mississippi River that will detail the consequences of inaction and outline adaptation measures needed to build a sustainable system,” Marmillion said.
Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne spoke about the unique culture of the Mississippi River and called it a symbol of everything that is great about America. “The Nile and Amazon have their mystique, but the Mississippi has its personality–and that’s what makes it unique. We have an obligation to view that river in the context of how we’re going to help it survive, manage it as a resource, and use it to deal with coastal erosion and save America’s WETLAND.”
Baton Rouge Mayor-President Melvin “Kip” Holden told the group that many cities along the Mississippi turned their backs on the river when the levee system was built, but that today cities like Baton Rouge are reconnecting with the river and seeing economic and quality of life benefits in doing so.
“Water wars have already affected areas that depend on great rivers for drinking water and a combined effort is needed to develop a sustainable water management program. It’s going to take governors, state legislatures, Mayors, industry leaders, environmental interests — it’s going to take all of us to keep the Big River healthy. And let me be the first to say, count me in,” said Holden.
Jazz musician Irvin Mayfield, who serves as Artistic Director for the Grammy award-winning New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and on the National Council on the Arts, echoed that culture can play an important role in helping to sustain the Mississippi River. “We have a saying that art knows more than science does,” he said, reminding the forum participants of the strong ties music and culture create.
More information on The Big River Works initiative can be found at www.bigriverworks.org