Gulf of Mexico
Patrick Lantrip / Daily Memphian A large sandbar juts out into the Mississippi River south of Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, on Nov. 2, 2022.

USA - Mississippi River mayors eye federal funds to fight effects of climate change

A coalition of more than 100 Mississippi River mayors are pushing for more investment in natural infrastructure, ecosystem restoration and disaster resilience. The Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI) released its policy platform during their annual meeting in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, March 1.

The mayors applauded the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). MRCTI co-chairs Errick Simmons and Jim Strickland, the mayors of Greenville, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee, respectively, said the two investment packages bring “the most resources to the Mississippi River Corridor since the New Deal.”

The IRA includes more than $21 billion for climate-friendly agriculture, which could reduce harmful runoff into the river. The infrastructure law invests $17 billion in ports and waterways.

Strickland and Simmons said in a statement that the historic federal investments could fund watershed-scale projects to completion. Brad Cavanagh, the mayor of Dubuque, Iowa, said new spending must also be paired with smart policy.

MRCTI reports that nearly $1 trillion of product travels on the Mississippi River annually, accounting for more than 90% of U.S. agricultural exports, generating half a trillion dollars in revenue and employing an estimated 1.3 million people.

“Our corridor is a national treasure of environmental services vital to our nation’s economic security and critical to commodity production, manufacturing and transportation,” Strickland and Simmons said in their statement.

The mayors are seeking additional funding for eight pieces of legislation and calling for more than $280 million in appropriations for 10 projects, which MRCTI executive director Colin Wellenkamp said demonstrate a basin-scale approach to conservation.

One pillar of the programs is protection of the basin’s natural infrastructure, such as wetlands, which combat severe weather events driven by climate change.

Wetlands provide myriad benefits to communities near the river, including water quality improvement, pollution control, flood protection and recreation. The upper Mississippi River has lost more than 80% of wetlands since the end of the 18th century, making the region more vulnerable to natural disasters.

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