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A National Dialogue for the Future of America's Waterway

River Currents Newsletter - July 2009

Dire Forecast. Where's The Action?

Every year we hear forecasts and reports about the Dead Zone. By this we mean the growing Mississippi River area in the Gulf of Mexico that's incapable of producing or supporting life due to severely depleted oxygen levels. We hear the annual pronouncements of the severity and its growth, but no unifying action results. What will it take, many ask, to find a whole-River approach to this system-wide problem?

At America's Waterway, we say what about a National Dialogue for the Future of the Mississippi River? We're talking about a time in place where all the players - the agricultural and industrial interests, along with the scientists, tourism promoters and cultural heritage aficionados - take a day to discuss possibilities for a national approach to the Mississippi River.

Right now, we never get beyond the perspective - or regulatory vantage point - of one state or grouping of municipalities. The people who actually experience the Dead Zone can easily see the effects of upstream practices. Getting that across to people who cause the Dead Zone, when urgent, immediate, local River problems take precedent is almost impossible. And even if they could address the problem where they are, the solution requires jurisdictional cooperation and whole-River coordination. It's the aquatic equivalent of needing a federal stimulus package, but no political constituency exists with enough clout to push for action.

We could wait until there are no shrimp left for people to eat and see if there will be enough shrimp eaters to lobby Congress for a solution. Unfortunately, the economic hardship of a single group doesn't often muster enough to create legislation, let alone pass it.

And, is a solution to the Dead Zone really all that's needed as far as the future of the Mississippi is concerned? From conversations we've had up and down the Mississippi River, issues of urban development, cultural heritage, recreation and economic development have many groups and individuals asking why this major ecological and cultural resource isn't handled comprehensively as a water system, like the Great Lakes or the Chesapeake Bay?

At America's Waterway, we've created a process for addressing the Mississippi as a national treasure and as a resource. It's a combination of grass roots organizing using a tried and true process called the 21st Century Town Hall Meeting and placing the results of the Meeting on an on-line community Web site for collective action. It's not confined to one solution over another. Rather, it's designed to set up a process for finding a whole- River, system-wide approach to the Mississippi.

Even though it's not a direct, frontal attack on the causes of the Dead Zone, it holds the promise of a process that could unify the Mississippi so a whole-River solution - with all the parties involved - could emerge.

August Conference to Address Vision for Sustainable Mississippi

The National Great Rivers Research and Education Center and the Nature Conservancy will host a national conference Aug. 10 - 13 in Collinsville, IL that will feature speakers who will explore the recreational, navigation, and agricultural attributes of the Mississippi River and its future. The conference will culminate with a special policy forum where recommendations will be delivered to key elected officials. Go to www.Conferences.uiuc.edu/mississippiriver  for the latest details on the conference.
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