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Stars Aligning for Innovative, Comprehensive River Management Reform?

July 15, 2011Patrick NunnallyUncategorizedComments Off on Stars Aligning for Innovative, Comprehensive River Management Reform?

It is obviously difficult these days to think seriously about political leadership aligning toward a subject as comprehensive and controversial and complex as river management. (snarky aside:  “political leadership” is rapidly joining the examples of oxymorons such as “jumbo shrimp.”)

Now back to our point:

Flooding on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers this year has highlighted the imperative for comprehensive, multistate, multi-agency, multi-stakeholder discussions on future management of these great rivers.  On the Missouri alone, the Corps of Engineers Master Manual lists eight targeted uses for which the river must be managed.  Floods this year have exacerbated different viewpoints and values held by the eight states through which the river flows, and a group of US Senators has begun meeting to discuss review of the Manual.

Senate action is timely, but is likely not broad enough in its thinking.  We need to re-think our relation to these rivers, what we ask of them, and, more importantly, what their very size and force requires of us (hint:  probably more than just more levees).  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has made a very promising start in this re-thinking with three editorials published Fourth of July weekend around the topic “One River, One Problem.”

The first in the series, and links to the others, is available here.  I highly recommend all of them:  the first sets the historical and geographical frame for the problem; the second offers three solutions, including “widen the river” i.e. let it take up floodplain space as necessary so that the inevitable floods are less costly; the third establishes the political context for the discussion.

One River, One Problem also has a presence on Twitter and Facebook, both of which are proving to be important sources of continuing information.

There are a number of efforts underway to think comprehensively about the Mississippi River as well, a task complicated by the more varied social and physical geography that the Miss traverses.  I’ll keep you posted on those efforts as they evolve, and welcome comments on what you think are necessary elements in any substantial efforts toward river sustainability.

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