Leaders of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI), a mayoral-led effort to create a coordinated voice for the Mississippi River, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mississippi Valley Division, signed a memorandum of common purpose (MOCP) in support of meeting today's challenges facing the Mississippi River as well as the collaborative actions needed to address them. More than 20 Mississippi River Mayors were in town for MRCTI's second annual organizational meeting.
Mayors David Kleis, St. Cloud, MN and Francis Slay, St. Louis, MO, co-chairs of MRCTI, and Major General John Peabody, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mississippi Valley Division, represented by Edward Belk, senior civilian of the Mississippi River Commission, entered into an MOCP to encourage cooperation between the Mayors along the Main Stem Mississippi River and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to protect, sustain, and enhance the natural attributes and economic vitality of the Mississippi River.
"The importance of this waterway simply cannot be overestimated. The River is truly the most valuable asset of our cities. It supports so much of our existence and is responsible for so much of our draw that the channel is the backbone of our economies," explained Mayor Kleis.
"Droughts, floods, aging infrastructure, and contracting Federal involvement have all taken a toll. That is why, as mayors, we feel we need to act at a collective level."
The MOCP was hastened by the 2011 floods, the 2012 drought, and the violent storm events of spring 2013. The drought and the floods have led to a significant deterioration of the Mississippi River region's crops, made worse since no single federal agency was responsible for leading or coordinating drought-related response and recovery.
Through the memorandum, the Mayors of the Mississippi River established a first-ever collective partnership with the Army Corps, which is responsible for the water resources program within the 370,000-square-miles of the Mississippi Valley. The MOCP addresses issues facing the River, including shared priorities developed by the MRCTI Mayors over the past year, such as:
• fostering the continued on the ground education and increased effectiveness of the newly formed bipartisan Congressional Mississippi River Caucus
• helping to focus Federal resources to advance improvement in the River's water quality
• encouraging the development of a National Drought Council that works with stakeholders to create a drought policy action plan and national drought preparedness information
• establishing a multi-agency initiative to develop and implement a coordinated strategy that aids local governments as they address aquatic invasive species in the Mississippi River basin
• preserving the Pre-Disaster Mitigation program for hazard planning and project implementation.
In an early win, MRCTI Mayors along with Congressman Bill Enyart last week introduced an amendment to the Farm Bill calling for the establishment of a National Drought Council to equip the nation with drought preparedness and response policy which currently does not exist. Though the Farm Bill did not pass, the Mayors are currently working with members of the Mississippi River Caucus to find an alternate vehicle.
The council will be comprised of agency heads, governors, county executives, and mayors and charged with submitting a preparedness and response recommendations to Congress within one year.
More than 20 MRCTI Mayors participated in the press briefing, including: Francis Slay, St. Louis, MO - Co-Chair; David Kleis, St. Cloud, MN - Co-Chair; Rita Albrecht, Bemidji, MN;
Larry Brown, Natchez, MS; Roy Buol, Dubuque, IA; Hyram Copeland, Vidalia, LA; Bill Gluba, Davenport, IA; Brad Gunderson, Sauk Falls, MN; Mark Huber, Prescott, WI; David Lattus, Hickman, KY; Darrel Olson, Baxter, MN; Joe Perske, Sartell, MN; Harry Rediger, Cape Girardeau, MO; Jo Anne Smiley, Clarksville, MO; Tom Thompson, Grafton, IL; Cathy VanRisseghem, Little Falls, MN; Mark Vulich, Clinton, IA and A.C. Wharton, Memphis, TN.
Modeled after the successful Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, MRCTI is an effort coordinated by the Northeast-Midwest Institute (NEMWI) with funding from the Walton Family Foundation to create an influential voice for the Mississippi River that dramatically increases demand for effective river protection, restoration and management in Washington, D.C. The recent severe drought and floods severely impacted the towns, cities and people who live and make a living along the Mississippi River highlighted the urgent need for a unified effort to protect and sustain the River.
As the ecological linchpin to the 37-state Mississippi River Basin, the River is responsible for creating $105 billion worth of U.S. GDP; providing drinking water for more than 18 million; transporting 62 percent of our nation's agricultural output; delivering nearly 400 tons of coal and petroleum products; and directly supporting one million jobs and millions more indirectly.