Nov 13 2015 Improving the Mississippi River Watershed will require cross-sector coordination and collaboration
The Mississippi River Watershed is the fourth largest watershed in the world, encompassing all or part of 31 U.S. states, providing drinking water to millions, serving as a place to grow agricultural products, and producing nearly 25 percent of our nation’s hydropower. The watershed’s rivers and wetlands provide unique habitat opportunities, along with nature-based recreational activities including fishing, boating, and birdwatching. But a report card developed by America’s Watershed Initiative to measure the watershed’s performance in six key areas provided less than stellar results, giving the watershed an overall rating of D+. With such a large population and land area relying on the watershed, improvements will require actions and ideas that bridge silos between sectors and states, and the Initiative is leading the way.
“The report card is not a goal unto itself — It’s a tool to bring together leaders from around the watershed to develop a shared vision for the future.”
The Initiative’s advocacy for improving the Mississippi River Watershed involves two stages, both involving cross-sector discussion and collaboration. The first was the report card process, which laid out the issues and challenges with the watershed’s role in Ecosystems, Flood Control & Risk Reduction, Transportation, Water Supply, Economy, and Recreation. This process involved more than 700 participants, including businesses, state, local, and federal government agencies, science organizations, academic institutions, and non-profits across 37 states. This step was crucial in implementing what we refer to in our Toolkit as building a common fact base. In order for a collaboration to be successful, partners first need to determine what facts are relevant to the issue at hand. For America’s Watershed Initiative, the comprehensive grading process that involved expertise from across sectors ensured that the information necessary for creating solutions was accessible and centralized.
But “the report card is not a goal unto itself — It’s a tool to bring together leaders from around the watershed to develop a shared vision for the future and create awareness about the opportunities and challenges that face our states and nation,” according to the Initiative’s website. The second stage of the Initiative’s process, and one that is currently underway, is to help potential collaborative partners develop collective approaches for managing the watershed. The Initiative is also dedicated to reporting on measures that indicate progress, scaling successful local initiatives on a national level, and serving as a cross-sector facilitating entity that connects stakeholders to bring to light a shared vision and integrated management for the watershed.
“Fortunately, moving from a D+ to an A grade is achievable — with new levels of understanding and collaboration.”
In Iowa Farmer Today, two individuals with different stakes in the improvement of the watershed call for a cross-sector approach between the non-profit and private sectors, citing the report card as their call to action. “The watershed continues to experience increased pressure from the demands of urbanization, agriculture, transportation, and land development,” explained Suzy Friedman of the Environmental Defense Fund and Max Starbuck of the National Corn Growers Association. “Fortunately, moving from a D+ to an A grade is achievable — with new levels of understanding and collaboration.” The collaboration between the EDA and the NCGA has already yielded results: With additional support from United Suppliers, a collaborative of agricultural retailers, they have developed the SUSTAIN platform, which provides tools that enhance crop production while also increasing nutrient use efficiency and reducing soil erosion.
For more examples of intersector collaborations improving our nation’s watersheds, see our blog posts on the Delaware River Watershed and the restoration of the Carmel River.