At a news conference in Paris, St. Paul, Minn., Mayor Chris Coleman, co-chair of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative, said the 31-state Mississippi River basin already has faced significant challenges from the kinds of weather events that could be linked to climate change in the future, such as major hurricanes and floods. He pointed to the 2012 drought that resulted in $35 billion in agricultural losses as an example of future problems facing the river basin.
Coleman said rising seas and weather changes triggered by global warming also pose a threat to freshwater and agricultural irrigation supplies and to the ability of shipping grain and other products to market on the river. He said 20 million people rely on the Mississippi River and its tributaries for their drinking water, and the watershed produces 60 percent of the United States’ grain, representing $400 billion a year to the economy.
Dubuque, Iowa, Mayor Roy Buell warned that more than 35 percent of the world’s food supplies rely on major river basins. Those rivers are the source of less than 1 percent of the world’s sustainable water supply but are home to a significant percentage of the world’s population. A failure of sustainability efforts aimed at protecting those water supplies could place even more pressure on the U.S. to supply food to the world, he said.
The international agreement was worked out during a series of global river talks with representatives from food-producing river basins during COP-21, the United Nations climate change meeting. Those meetings included representatives of the U.N. Environment Program, International Network of Basin Organizations, International Society for River Science and ecoAmerica.
“One of the greatest climate change threats to the world is a dramatic alteration to our food supply and decrease of freshwater. Since the Mississippi River basin tops the list in food production, we saw the development of an international sustainability agreement imperative to saving river basins — including ours — from climate change and major population growth,” Coleman said.
The Mayors’ Mississippi River initiative includes representatives from 68 cities and towns. The agreement includes a number of goals aimed at developing water quality and quantity programs for the world’s major river basins:
- Developing a robust water monitoring strategy that tracks flows as well as pollutant and nutrient loading
- Expanding water treatment facilities to increase capacity and reduce the use of combined sewer overflow systems
- Installing urban catch-basins to filter runoff before it reaches rivers, streams and lakes
- “Renaturing” areas in and adjacent to cities
- Renaturing main-stem and tributary river banks throughout intense agricultural zones
- Employing sustainable agricultural practices such as installation of cover crops and field rotation techniques, use of low flow irrigation, formation of tiered fields, planting of riparian borders, setting of conservation easements, incorporation of integrated pest management techniques and restoration of forests, grasslands, and river ecosystems.