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A National Dialogue for the Future of America's Waterway


River Currents Newsletter - May 2014

Spring on the Mississippi River
These days my inbox fills with flood alerts. It's an annual ritual. Predictably, the warnings are issued, the Mississippi River Commission perfunctorily goes forth to talk with residents about "high water", and threatened cities and towns decry the lack of funding for protection.

It wasn't always this way. It used to be much worse.

People along the river were even more vulnerable. In 1928, following the Great Flood of 1927, congress passed the Flood Control Act establishing the Mississippi River & Tributaries Project. It has indeed protected people. But it isn't without its deficiencies, and its design doesn't take into account the multitude of issues facing the river in the 21st century.

A new and more robust engineering planning, evaluation and accreditation process has been developed by engineers themselves. The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, backed by the American Council of Engineering Companies, the American Public Works Association, and the American Society of Civil Engineers, has created Envision. Modeled after architecture's LEED accreditation program, ISI's Envision holds promise for 21st century design for flood control on the Mississippi River.

Another potential 21st century planning process at the scale of the river is America's Waterway National Dialogue. Both these efforts provide the objectivity, inclusiveness and multi-layered decision-making required for a river basin as complex as the Mississippi River.

As we go through this flood season… again, let's take a lesson from the 1928 congress and find a more comprehensive and integrated approach to managing Americas' great waterway and its floods.

Mississippi River Public Meetings Include Information & Engagement in Minnesota
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency rolled out its strategy to reduce sediment in the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. But they weren't your usual public meetings.

More like an informal ‘open house’, fueled with coffee and cookies, the meetings featured posters and displays from partner organizations explaining conservation techniques and local clean water activities. Along with a strategy-explanation booth run by the MPCA itself, displays came from such organizations as a lake association, a university, a county conservation district, and others.

"We're interested in encouraging more two-way conversations," said Larry Gunderson, Minnesota River Basin coordinator for the MPCA, "so we try different formats for our meetings. We let the purpose of the meeting determine the format."

Now you may think that a plan to reduce sediment in rivers should be important enough to stand on its own. However, the MPCA's approach to spreading the word is likely to draw more participants, persuade more people to change their practices and result in more wide-spread adoption of the new strategy than a meeting devoted to explaining the strategy alone. In short: their roll out is engaging, as well as informative. Hats off to the MPCA! Maybe this is the model we need for the whole Mississippi River.

National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium Exhibit Focuses on River's Role in the Civil War
During the Civil War, America - both North and South - knew the Mississippi River was vital to the nation's future. That's why it was the location for so many of the Civil War's critical battles, including the Battle of Vicksburg, said to turn the tide in favor of the Union.

An exhibit at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium explores these events and helps us reflect on the importance of the river as a powerful part of the nation's security over time. And it brings a local slant on its impact in Dubuque. The exhibit appears to run through May and is a collaborative effort of the Museum, Loras College, the A.Y. McDonald Charitable Foundation and Humanities Iowa.

Geotourism Comes to the Mississippi River
The Mississippi River Connections Collaborative is seeking yet another kind of engagement for Americans and their great river. Together with National Geographic's Center for Sustainable Destinations, they have a plan to put tourists in touch with local Mississippi River scenery, history and culture through the use of trails, local input and a cell phone app. This exciting venture relies on local "geotourism stewardship councils" to authenticate local perspectives. It turns tourism on its head by emphasizing the natural assets of communities and the river, rather than building attractions. For more information, contact teastin@lynks.com.

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