Will activists dominate Miss. River Watershed meet?

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What could easily become an activist dominated organization, the America’s Great Watershed Initiative (AGWI), is hosting a conference Sept. 26-27 to set an agenda for “meeting the many demands placed on the Mississippi River Watershed (MRW).”

The demand would appear to be demands on Mississippi River Watershed farmers more than anyone else. AGWI says the conference at the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark is “part of an effort to unite leaders and decision makers from industry, state and federal agencies, academia and non-proft organizations in shaping the vision for the management of the MRW.

The MRW covers parts of 31 states and two Canadian provinces, it is noted. There are six major sub-basins and more than 250 tributaries that feed the Mississippi River. Additional regulations are apparently the goal of shaping a new vision.

Event speakers announced include: USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Ann Mills; Major General John W. Peabody, president-nominee of the Mississippi River Commission; Ingram Barge Company CEO Craig Philip; Steve Stockton of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Glenn Prickett, chief external affairs officer for The Nature Conservancy; and representatives from DuPont, IBM and others.

Individuals interested in attending the conference can register online at agwi.org, according to the announcement widely distributed at the last minute by The Nature Conservancy.

“The Mississippi Watershed is critically important to this nation and other nations, and warrants a unified vision that will benefit America well into the future,” said Peabody. “This basin produces agricultural products worth $54 billion annually and accounts for 92 percent of the nation’s agriculture exports.

“About 500 million tons of goods are transported on this system each year,” Peabody added. “Millions of Americans get their water from these rivers. And people spend millions of dollars each year experiencing these rivers while fishing, hunting, boating and enjoying their beauty.”

Michael Reuter, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Great Rivers Partnership, said, “The people who attend this conference represent a wide array of interests. That’s a good thing. The Mississippi and its tributaries provide a lot of different benefits to a lot of different people. The only way we’re going to create a collaborative vision for the management of this system—one that meets all the demands placed on it—is by bringing stakeholders together. And that’s why this conference is important.”

Dan Mecklenborg, senior vice president and chief legal officer at Ingram Barge Compnay, said, “One of the goals of AGWI is to create a unified voice for the Mississippi River watershed. Such a voice could be powerful and address issues that cross city, state and even national boundaries—issues like energy, transportation, water quality, flood control, infrastructure, recreation and floodplain management. And such a voice could help build recognition among regional and national leaders about the importance of this river system and the need for its integrated management.”

Individuals on the AGWI Steering Committee represent the Mississippi River Commission, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, America’s Wetland, the City of Dubuque, Iowa, The Nature Conservancy, America’s Wetland Foundation, Caterpillar, Inc., Ingram Barge Company, and the Iowa Soybean Association.

Previous concerns about nutrient runoff still makes it appear the biggest impact of anything that will come from AGWI appears to be against farmers and ranchers. Only one steering committee representative has strong ties to farmers.

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