As Quad-Citians go about the business of everyday life today, a group of people will be huddling in Moline to focus on improving a resource which helps define and bring life to our region.
For the next two days, stakeholders in the Upper Mississippi River will be meeting in groups to figure out ways to raise the dismal grade our river was assigned last fall by America’s Watershed Initiative.
How bad is our watershed’s health? The entire Mississippi watershed, which includes portions of 31 states, got a D+ after the organization evaluated such things as the amount of clean water present, the condition of the river infrastructure and its ecological health. Here in the upper region, which Mark Twain once declared was “the finest part of the Mississippi River,” we scored better, but only slightly.
The area that includes the Quad-Cities got a C. The higher grade may be due in part to the people and organizations which not only organized the current conference, but have been making some measurable strides in focusing our efforts to improve this essential resource which joins us together.
Consider that our river’s latest bad grade was first released as the stakeholders gathered in the Quad-cities for 2016’s Upper Mississippi River Conference. It’s an event which, River Action executive director Kathy Wine told our editorial board, began in 2008 as a way to develop a shared vision, to identify and form partnerships and to advance solution for the Upper Mississippi River and beyond.
We’ve made progress in the years since. But last year’s troubling AWI assessment shows just how far we still have to go in addressing the interconnected challenges watershed communities such as ours face.
Focus is on ‘Raising the Grade’
The urgency created by that assessment did add fresh energy and focus to this year’s conference. The theme is “Raising the Grade,” and it is bringing together a variety of sectors to help improve water quality and river use.
It’s not just sportsmen and environmentalists who want to protect and promote nature, but farmers and businesses which rely on the river to move goods, energy companies which need the river to power our homes and businesses and cities and towns which rely on the river for drinking water and also must manage her flood waters.
The latter is one of the biggest challenges facing our watershed. As the Nature Conservancy’s Bob Sinkler reminded us Monday, that’s because “more water is coming faster than ever before.” That’s unlikely to change any time soon.
The conference isn’t, however, only about the problems facing the Mississippi, but the opportunities that exist in our interconnected communities to work together to maximize the river’s potential while also protecting it and its life-giving waters.
Mr. Sinkler said, the people meeting at the iWireless Center through Friday will be trying to answer the question: “What can we do to roll up our sleeves and come up with a game plan?”
The hope is to create a plan that includes realistic ideas that could be implemented in the next few years as well as intermediate and long-term steps that will lead us into an even better future. We applaud all those who are working on behalf of raising the grade of our river before AWI issues its next report card in 2020.
At the beginning of this piece, we identified conference attendees as stakeholders, and of course they are. But we are all stakeholders in the Mississippi River.
That means, when called upon to do so, we should support the efforts of these government, business and private sector bridge-builders to find and take advantage of the “win, win, win opportunities” Mr. Sinkler says are out there waiting for us.