Seven states pool efforts to sustain upper Mississippi River basin

By Debra Levey Larson
Media/Communications Specialist, University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

URBANA, Ill.—Research directors and water resource administrators from institutions in seven states in the North Central Region of the upper Mississippi River basin met recently at the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC) to share ideas and develop a common framework concerning fresh-water issues facing the nation, particularly focused on the sustainability of the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River is the fourth longest river in the world, the third largest in terms of land mass, and the seventh largest in flow. The basin drains 41 percent of the continental United States from New York all the way to the Rocky Mountains.

“With the upcoming Farm Bill in mind, there is a sense of urgency to present a unified statement to the agricultural community about topics regarding the Mississippi River and its watershed,” said Robert Hauser, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “It’s important that research institutions work together to sustain this vital natural resource, particularly in such trying economic times, pooling the efforts and expertise of sister institutions to explore funding strategies just makes sense.”

Deans and research directors from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois conducted a brainstorming and planning workshop at the NGRREC Confluence Field Station in Alton, Ill., March 26 to share knowledge and discuss critical revitalization initiatives within the upper Mississippi watershed.

During the morning session, researchers from each state shared information about projects and programs they are working on concerning natural resources, community development and economics and, in particular, water.

“Many of the institutions are working on projects that complement one another,” said Gary Rolfe, director of the NGRREC. “By forming this consortium, we’ll be able to maximize scientific, social and economic efforts and funding opportunities.”

Jozef Kokini, dean for research at the U of I College of ACES, added: “In recent years, the United Nations ranked fresh-water sustainability as the most pressing and urgent issue of our generation, and there have been many federal programs focusing on the Chesapeake Bay, the Everglades and Peugeot Sound. We plan to present a unified case across institutions that the Mississippi river basin should be a critical focus area for major federal funding from the USDA, the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency. A regional/national initiative to address the sustainability of the river basin, which is critical to the country and the world, can serve as an international model for the sustainability of other rivers like the Amazon, the Danube, the Nile and others.”

Kokini said combining efforts to create multi-disciplinary research and education projects will serve to strengthen their collective voice with legislators from the North Central Region and federal funding agencies.

“The upper Mississippi River basin is a large natural resource shared by many surrounding states,” Hauser said. “With that ownership comes a responsibility to maintain it for the health and welfare of the communities it touches. We’re taking this first step toward addressing environmental concerns that we all share.”

The NGRREC Research and Education Station is made possible through a partnership with the University of Illinois, Lewis and Clark Community College and the Illinois Natural History Survey.

From the June 15-21, 2011 issue

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