Environmental and Conservation Groups Applaud U.S. House of Representatives for passage of the Water Resources Development Act.

August 4, 2020

Contact: 
Olivia Dorothy, American Rivers, (217) 390-3658 (East Moline, IL)
David Stokes, Great Rivers Habitat Alliance, (314) 918-1007 (St. Louis, MO)
Ryan Grosso, Prairie Rivers Network, (815) 954-7920 (Champaign, IL)
Jim Karpowicz, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, (573) 424-0077 (St. Louis, MO)
Barry Drazkowski, Izaak Walton League, (507) 458-6642 (Fountain City, WI)
Trevor Russell, Friends of the Mississippi River, (612) 388-8856 (Minneapolis, MN)  
Kelly McGinnis, Mississippi River Network, (708) 305-3524 (Chicago, IL)
Christine Favilla, Piasa Palisades Group of the Sierra Club, (618) 401-7870 (Alton, IL)

LaCrosse, WI – Earlier this year, American Rivers named the Upper Mississippi River America’s Most Endangered River® of 2020, citing the grave threat that climate change and poor river and watershed management pose to public safety. The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives takes important steps to address these threats on the Upper Mississippi River. Environmental groups throughout the Upper Midwest commend the House version of WRDA, and strongly encourage the U.S. Senate to maintain these important conservation measures in the final version to be passed by Congress and signed by the President. 

“The House version of the Water Resources Development Act includes many provisions that will improve river ecosystems and prioritize natural infrastructure,” said Olivia Dorothy, Upper Mississippi River Director for American Rivers. “There are two provisions that will really help the Upper Mississippi River and Upper Midwest Region in the face of climate change. Those provisions include Sections 211 and 308 that would authorize a Watershed Study on flooding in the basin and increase available funding for restoration, science and monitoring on the Upper Mississippi.”

“We thank Chairman Peter DeFazio, Ranking Member Sam Graves, and all of the members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for their work on this bill,” said David Stokes with Great Rivers Habitat Alliance in St. Louis. “Ranking Member Graves’ efforts to include the Upper Mississippi River Watershed Study are greatly appreciated.”

“We also want to thank Congressman Ron Kind and Congresswoman Angie Craig” said Barry Drazkowski, Mississippi River Specialist for the Izaak Walton League.  “Their work to expand the Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program will improve habitat rehabilitation, science and monitoring on the Upper Mississippi River.”

“The bipartisan support for this important bill is truly inspiring “ said Jim Karpowicz, River Advocate for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. “It proves that even in these difficult times, it is possible to work together to solve problems, problems that affect us all. We are looking forward to watching the programs roll out on the ground, particularly on the Upper Mississippi, an area of great significance for our Missouri members.”

House WRDA Increases Available Funding for the Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program 
The Upper Mississippi River Restoration (UMRR) Program was the first environmental restoration and monitoring program undertaken on a large river system in the United States; authorized by the Water Resources Development Act of 1986. 

The UMRR Program has come to be recognized as the single most important effort committed to ensuring the viability and vitality of the Upper Mississippi River System’s (UMRS) diverse and significant fish and wildlife resources since establishment of the National Wildlife Refuges on that system in the 1920’s. The UMRR Program has improved critical fish and wildlife habitat on 106,000 acres through 56 projects, accounting for more than 50 percent of the Corps’ reported wetland acres restored nationally between 2005 and 2015. 

“For the first time in a long time, the UMRR Program is getting a much-needed boost,” said Ryan Grosso of Prairie Rivers Network. “It has a great record of success, and we hope these changes will continue that pattern and open doors to more critical habitat restoration projects. In the midst of a changing climate, a healthy River and scientific research are crucial to the safety of the environment and communities along the Upper Mississippi.”

Since the UMRR Program’s last appropriation adjustment in 1999 to $33 million annually, the spending power of the Program has diminished significantly. If Section 308 of the House version is adopted, it will authorize an additional $22 million for the program annually. 

House WRDA Authorizes a Watershed Study to evaluate flooding on the Upper Mississippi River
To adequately offset the flood risk impacts of climate change and development, the Upper Mississippi River needs a water management plan that will provide more predictability and security during disasters. 

“The ‘everyone for themselves’ flood management approach along the Upper Mississippi River has left us vulnerable,” said Christine Favilla of the Sierra Club. “Climate disruption is driving extreme weather patterns that will lead to more frequent and prolonged flood events along the Upper Mississippi River, like what the Midwest experienced in 2019, and the region is unprepared for this new reality.” 

“The pandemic is already shining a grim light on our over-reliance on resource intensive flood control infrastructure,” said Kelly McGinnis of the Mississippi River Network. “Instead of fighting nature, let’s get people out of harm’s way and build out nature’s defenses, like wetlands and floodplains.” 

“The Upper Mississippi River Watershed Study will help provide the resources we need to address flooding at its source,” said Trevor Russell of Friends of the Mississippi River. “This includes advancements in on-farm solutions that hold more water back on the land and protect those who live downstream.”

In American Rivers’ Most Endangered River© listing, environmental and conservation groups asked state and federal management agencies to create a planning framework that

  1. Coordinates river and watershed management actions. Most Upper Mississippi River floods start in the uplands. Agriculture, natural resource and civil works agencies must start working together to develop effective solutions for farmers to slow the flow of water coming off the land.  
  1. Ensures all river communities are involved in the decision-making process. Everyone needs to be part of the solution. We need to stop pitting neighbor against neighbor and make sure our most vulnerable citizens have a voice in the process.  
  1. Accounts for climate change. Not only is climate disruption causing more frequent flood events, but it is also driving flood events that are longer duration, like the unprecedented 2019 Flood. 
  1. Gives rivers room to flood safely. The most effective flood risk reduction strategy is to move people and infrastructure out of the floodplain and prohibit future development. 
  1. Restores lost habitat. Floodplains do not just convey flood water; they are a critical component of river habitat. River habitat continues to degrade faster than restoration projects can be implemented and any development activities along the Mississippi must mitigate past environmental harms and rehabilitate habitat. 

Section 211 in the House Water Resources Development Act authorizes a watershed study for the Upper Mississippi River that can accomplish these goals.

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American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers. 

Friends of the Mississippi River is a Minnesota-based environmental organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the Mississippi River and its watershed through land conservation, river corridor stewardship, community education, and clean water advocacy.

Great Rivers Habitat Alliance is a Missouri-based floodplain and wetlands conservation organization dedicated to preserving the Confluence floodplain of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers.

Izaak Walton League is one of America’s oldest and most successful conservation organizations – and we are the only organization training, equipping, and coordinating volunteer water quality monitors on a national scale. These volunteers are the heart and soul of our common-sense conservation mission. Through member-driven bottom-up governance, the Izaak Walton League is protecting outdoor America in communities across the country, while working strategically at the national level to win critical conservation battles.

Mississippi River Network is a coalition of over 50 nonprofit organizations and businesses from the headwaters to the Gulf all working together to protect the land, water, wildlife, and people of our greatest River – the Mississippi. The Network implements a national public program for the River, called “1Mississippi” that is designed to educate, engage, and inspire people to take action to protect the Mississippi River. Since 2009, 1Mississippi has recruited 20,000 River Citizens and inspired thousands of actions.

Missouri Coalition for the Environment is Missouri’s independent, citizens’ environmental organization for clean water, clean air, clean energy, and a healthy environment. We are a trusted, non-partisan, 501(c)(3) state-level environmental advocacy organization, an informed educator, a passionate advocate, and a state-wide partner supporting allied organizations and initiatives around the state. We deliver vital information to thousands of Missourians on issues that affect our water, air, food, health, and the environment.

Prairie Rivers Network is an Illinois-based river conservation and clean water advocacy organization. Our mission is to protect water, heal land, and inspire change. With the support of over 1,200 members throughout Illinois and the country, Prairie Rivers Network strives to use science and collective action to protect and restore the health of lands and waters throughout the state.

Sierra Club is the most enduring and influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States. We amplify the power of our 3.8 million members and supporters to defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. In addition to helping people from all backgrounds explore nature and our outdoor heritage, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action.