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National leaders warn of economic consequences as ecosystem declines
A group of national leaders called on the country to make the health of the Mississippi River a priority and act swiftly to safeguard one of America’s most remarkable and economically strategic natural resources.
“The Mississippi River is a dysfunctional system,” said R. King Milling, chairman of the America’s Wetland Foundation (AWF). “We need a national effort to save the third largest river basin in the world, one that touches 31 states and impacts the lives of nearly every American.”
Milling spoke today at The Big River Thrives, the second of five leadership forums in The Big River Works, a series of events organized by AWF to increase strategic cooperation along the Mississippi River and ensure its long-term health and sustainability.
“We have reached a tipping point,” said Milling in his opening remarks at the forum, which was hosted by Ducks Unlimited at the organization’s headquarters in Memphis. “If we don't start coordinating river management, the entire system will continue to degrade, hastening the deterioration of the delta and threatening the massive environmental and economic benefits the river provides to the nation.”
“Oftentimes people just assume environmental and economic interests are divided, but we’re united on this,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall. “In addition to its critical importance to fish and waterfowl, the Mississippi River is a source of life for communities across America. At least 50 cities depend on the river for their water supply, and more than 300 species of birds rely on the Mississippi flyway during their life cycle.”
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe delivered the keynote address at the event, emphasizing that Mississippi’s frequently underestimated significance. “Ecosystems like this are the foundation upon which our civilizations are built. The ecology and economy of this river system is vital to the entire North American continent.”
Ingram Barge Senior Vice President Dan Mecklenborg helped to quantify the river’s vital role as the nation’s superhighway, pointing out that U.S. Inland Waterways move more than 600 million tons of cargo annually, and that a standard 15-barge tow on the Mississippi River can haul as much as 1,050 large semi tractor-trailers or 216 rail cars. Not only that, said Mecklenborg, but inland barges produce 73 percent less carbon dioxide than trucks.
Across the board, participants agreed that the nation’s attention to the river’s sustainability has been lackluster in relation to the Mississippi’s tremendous value to the country.