Thursday, December 23, 2010

See You in 2011!

It's lights-out for your FNB (Friendly Neighborhood Blogger) and his Blog postings for the year!  See you in 2011 with all the news you need to eat on the Mississippi River Basin!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Army Corps Launches Scoping of Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study Amidst Environmental Group Concerns

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' ("Corps") Chicago District has announced that it plans to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) that it is undertaking as directed by Congress in the 2007 Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA)

For GLMRIS, the Corps plans to explore options and technologies to control aquatic nuisance species (ANS) that might be applied, according to the Corps, "to prevent or reduce the risk of ANS transfer between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins through aquatic pathways" (ANS are nonindigenous species that threaten the diversity or abundance of native species or the ecological stability of infested waters, or commercial, agricultural, aquacultural or recreational activities dependent on such waters).

Some environmental groups have expressed concerns that the Corps' use of the phrase "prevent or reduce the risk" of species migration runs contrary to Congressional intent expressed in the 2007 WRDA, which states that the Corps should conduct a study to "prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and other aquatic pathways" (emphasis added).  Groups are worried that inclusion of the phrase "or reduce the risk" indicates that the Corps is allowing leeway to scale back their study from the Congressionally-prescribed prevention endpoint (see this December 10, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, for example).

According to the GLMRIS web site, as part of this effort, the Corps' plans to:
  • Inventory current and forecast future conditions within the study area;
  • Identify aquatic pathways that may exist between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins;
  • Inventory current and future potential aquatic nuisance species;
  • Analyze possible ANS controls to prevent or reduce the risk of ANS transfer, to include hydraulic separation of the basins;
  • Analyze the impacts each ANS control may have on significant natural resources and existing and forecast (sic) uses of the lakes and waterways within the study area; and
  • Recommend a plan to prevent or reduce the risk of ANS transfer between the basins. If necessary, the plan will include mitigation measures for impacted waterway uses and significant natural resources.
As part of the EIS process the Corps held a public scoping meeting on Wednesday, December 15, in Chicago, Illinois.  Although that meeting date has passed, public comments will continue to be accepted through March 31, 2011.  Using input obtained during an initial scoping period, the Corps says that it "will refine the scope of GLMRIS to focus on significant issues, as well as eliminate issues that are not significant from further detailed study." Interested parties can refer to here on the GLMRIS project website to submit comments.

The Corps plans to host additional public meetings in different cities. Information regarding these meetings will be posted in the Federal Register and at

Questions regarding this matter may be directed to the GLMRIS Project Manager, Dave Wethington, by phone at (312) 846-5522 or by email at

December Mississippi River Basin Update

Here is the link to the December Update (PDF file) from the Northeast-Midwest Institute on Mississippi River Basin issues.   If that link doesn’t work, you can cut and paste the following into your Internet browser’s address field:
The December Update contains these items:
  • 112th Congress (Committee Assignments and Calendars)
Budget and Appropriations
  • Continuing Resolutions
River Basin News and Notes
  • USDA Mississippi River Basin Initiative 2011 Fiscal Year Grant Proposal Deadlines Approaching
  • NRC Highly Critical of Obama Administration's Principles and Guidelines Update
  • US Census Numbers: Rust Belt States to Lose House Seats; Sunbelt to Gain
  • Delta Dispatches
  • NGRREC E-Newsletter
  • Upcoming Conferences, Events and Workshops

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The House Always Wins

(If you are in need of a mental coffee break, here is a link to the OK Go song that inspired this blog post title.) 
Earlier today (December 21) the U.S. Census Bureau unveiled a new set of state and national population numbers, shaping the U.S. House seat map by determining which states will be adding House seats and which  will be losing them in redistricting next year. As noted by Census Bureau director Robert Groves, "Congress has charged the Census Bureau with doing the arithmetic to compute the number of Members in the U.S. House of Representatives.  This report . . . announce(s) the official national population count, report(ing) the state resident population for all states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.”  Based on the announced population numbers, the 2012 congressional landscape will change, mirroring trends from recent past redistricting, with rust belt states in the northeast and industrial Midwest losing population and House seats, and sunbelt states gaining.  States that will gain seats under redistricting include Florida (+2 seats), Georgia (+1), South Carolina (+1), Texas (+4), Arizona (+1), Utah (+1), Nevada (+1), and Washington (+1), while seat losers include New York (-2 seats), Massachusetts (-1), New Jersey (-1), Pennsylvania (-1), Ohio (-2), Michigan (-1), Illinois (-1), Iowa (-1), Missouri (-1) and Louisiana (-1) (a Census Bureau map of House seat gains and losses by state can be viewed here).  
Historically, such a shift in House seat apportionment has favored the Republicans rather than the Democrats, with seats shifting to more traditionally Republican states from Democratic strongholds. 
The full redistricting picture won't be revealed until early spring 2011 when the Census Bureau releases more detailed state-by-state population data showing where population gains and losses have occurred within states and Congressional districts.

Friday, December 17, 2010

House Committee Ranking Member Designations Nearly Completed

House Democratic Caucus members have nearly completed designating the 112th Congress ranking members for the various House committees.  The updated list with all of the Ranking Members is located here.

Mississippi River Basin Inititative Grant Funding Deadlines Approaching

Deadlines are rapidly approaching for partners to submit proposals for 2011 Fiscal Year Mississippi River Basin Healthy River Initiative (MRBI) USDA funding.  They are December 28 (Conservation Innovation Grant projects), and January 28 (Cooperative Conservation Partner Initiative projects). See this USDA overview for more information and details.

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

"Goodbye" to 2010
This will be the last 2010 weekly issue of "Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week."  The next weekly issue will be released on Friday, January 7.  Look next week for the December issue of our monthly "Mississippi River Basin Update," which will have the latest analysis of any Federal appropriations activity and its potential for impacting work related to the Mississippi River Basin.

I hope all have a peaceful and safe holiday season.  See you in 2011.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

In the States -
  • Wisconsin takes step to reduce phosphorus waterway pollution with new rule going into effect this month
  • WI DNR launches effort to improve Wisconsin River water quality degraded by phosphorus & related algal blooms
  • 1,000 Friends of Minnesota Releases Investment Guide for New Governor
  • Univ of MN VP at heart of "Troubled Waters" Mississippi River film cancellation controversy will step down
  • WI conservationists bracing for feared attack on environmental protections during upcoming legislative session
  • Quad Cities Waterkeeper settles Clean Water enforcement case against Milan IL mobile home park
  • IA failing to warn people to cut back on eating locally caught fish contaminated with mercury/other pollutants
  • 25 states; 3 tribes to share >$395M in Fed funds to clean abandoned coal mines (includes Mississippi R basin states)
Floodplains, Dams and Navigation -
  • Army Corps of Engineers: degradation and habitat loss have been exacerbated in Illinois River islands & side channels
Agriculture -
  • RFPs for USDA's Agricultural Water Enhancement Program & Cooperative Conservation & Partnership Initiative out today
  • Ethanol subsidies add fuel to tax bill discussions, setting stage for 2011 debates
  • Senator Chuck Grassley (IA): next year not expecting to maintain status quo on ethanol tax credits
  • Ag Nutrient Policy Council attorney: Chesapeake Bay "model for what EPA may try & do for Mississippi River Basin"
  • Farm regions in ND, SD, NE & KS avoid most financial collapse effects & lead recovery, thanks to strong exports
  • University of Calgary authors evaluate the ethics of biofuels
  • Fargo-based energy company moving forward with plans for nation’s first beet ethanol plant
  • Op-ed: Contrary to Soybean Council assertion, turbidity in MN River related to ag practices & not 'natural'
  • Incoming House Ag Comm Chair Lucas: direct payments may be on table in Farm Bill debate (audio)
  • USDA: 2010 net farm income forecast at $81.6 B, up 31 % from 2009 and 26 % higher than the 10-year ave. (pdf)
Water Quality-
  • Ag groups send "Dear Senator" letter opposing CWA "changes" in Chesapeake Clean Water & Ecosystem Restoration Act (PDF)
Events -
  • Mississippi River Research Consortium 43rd Annual Meeting April 28-29, La Crosse, WI
  • 27th Annual Bald Eagle Watch along Mississippi River on Saturday, January 8, 2011 in Fulton, IL
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
Other news-
  • NASA: Rising consumption of food and fiber will threaten water supplies and ecosystems
  • Senate passes bill to reduce lead in drinking water now moves to House for consideration before end of year
  • Army Corps of Engineers proposes $2.9B restoration for Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet environmental damage
Political Scene -
  • Major Appropriation Additions and Subtractions in the House-Passed Long-Term Continuing Resolution
  • Uncomfortable over earmarks ban, Rep. Bachmann (R-MN-6th) wants to ‘redefine’ term
  • OH EPA chief to resign before new administration takes office
  • Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD): Water, wildlife, lands omnibus bill has votes but lacks time
  • House Republicans will cut 84 committee slots in 112th Congress leading to scramble for slots
  • House Ag Comm Chair-elect Lucas announces 18 new GOP members of that Committee for 112th Congress
  • Senate's $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill collapses as 9 GOP senators pull support
  • Today GOP is expected to reveal House rules package of changes that will include new budgetary mechanisms
  • On today's House schedule: "Possible Further Action on Making Further Continuing Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2011"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Senate Appropriations Committee Releases Omnibus Appropriations Bill

Breaking: The Senate Appropriations Committee today took a decidedly different approach to funding the Federal government than the House did with its Continuing Resolution passed last week (see here), as that Senate Committee released a FY 2011 Omnibus Appropriations Bill consisting of separate appropriations measures passed out of the various Senate Appropriations subcommittees earlier this year (full text and earmarks lists here).  Whether the omnibus measure has the 60 votes needed to clear the full Senate is not yet clear.

House Committee Ranking Member Designations

House Democratic Caucus members have designated 112th Congress ranking members for the various House committees, which convenes on January 5 (see "Calendars," below in this blog).  Here is a summary of the incoming Ranking Members named thus far for each committee (listed alphabetically):

    * Agriculture-Collin Peterson (MN)
    * Appropriations-Norm Dicks (WA)
    * Armed Services-Adam Smith (WA)
    * Budget-Chris Van Hollen (MD)
    * Education and Labor-George Miller (CA)
    * Energy and Commerce-Henry Waxman (CA)
    * Financial Services-Barney Frank (MA)
    * Foreign Affairs-Howard Berman (CA)
    * Homeland Security-Bennie Thompson (MS)
    * House Administration-Robert Brady (PA)
    * Judiciary-John Conyers (MI)
    * Natural Resources-Ed Markey (MA)
    * Oversight and Government Reform-Elijah Cummings (MD)
    * Rules-Louise Slaughter (NY)
    * Science and Technology-Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX)
    * Small Business-Nydia Velazquez (NY)
    * Standards of Official Conduct-Zoe Lofgren (CA)
    * Transportation and Infrastructure-Nick Rahall (WV)
    * Veterans' Affairs-Bob Filner (CA)
    * Ways and Means-Sander Levin (MI)

Earlier in December, the Republican Caucus named Chairs for each of the respective House Committees.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Major Appropriation Additions and Subtractions in the House-Passed Long-Term Continuing Resolution

The House narrowly passed a year-long Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution last evening (December 8), which would provide funding for Federal programs through the end of September, 2011.  The Senate has yet to take up the measure, and its fate in the Senate is uncertain (see, for example, here).  The House-passed version of the long-term Continuing Resolution (HR 3082) largely freezes Fiscal Year 2011 discretionary appropriations at the Fiscal Year 2010 levels, although it includes several major changes to spending from Fiscal Year 2010 levels.  Some of those changes reflect White House requests and some are Democratic priorities.

  • FY 2010 actual: $1,089,652
  • FY 2011 president’s request: $1,135,555
  • FY 2011 continuing resolution (HR 3082): $1,089,652

Reductions from fiscal 2010 levels
  • $6 billion less for the Census, plus a rescission of $1.7 billion
  • $5.1 billion less for defense base closure funding
  • $1.5 billion less for high-speed rail
  • $630 million rescinded from previously authorized highway projects
  • $500 million rescinded from the Asset Forfeiture Fund
Increased Spending
  • $5.7 billion more for Pell grants
  • $4.9 billion more for the Defense Department for regular Pentagon operations
  • $3.1 billion more for Veterans Administration medical operations
  • $843 million more for programs in the jurisdiction of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee
  • $723 million more for Social Security, Medicare and unemployment compensation
  • $624 million more for nuclear weapons programs, dependent upon New START ratification
  • $550 million more for Race to the Top education grants
  • $438 million for nuclear nonproliferation efforts
  • $38 million more for programs in the jurisdiction of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee (including adjustments in funding to allow the US Forest Service to continue the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program in ten states, which "helps protect our nation’s forest watersheds and enhances rural forestry employment.")
The Act also requires the Department of Energy, Bureau of Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers to submit a spending plan for the fiscal year within 30 days.

SOURCE: House Appropriations Committee (; summary (pdf file) available here.

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

Ring Out the Old; Ring in the New
As the last days of the 111th Congress wind down, with a final adjournment expected next week, preparations are being made for the 112th Congress, which will convene on January 5, 2011.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Senate and House, respectively, released their 2012 legislative calendars (which differ from each other considerably; see here for more details).  And on Wednesday, the House Republican Conference approved new committee chairs for the 112th Congress (listed here).

Key Committee Chair assignments that impact directly upon Mississippi River Basin water resource issues include: Agriculture (Frank Lucas (R-OK-3rd)); Appropriations (Harold Rogers (R-KY-5th)); Budget (Paul Ryan (R-WI-1st)); Natural Resources (Doc Hastings (R-WA-4th)); and Transportation and Infrastructure (John Mica (R-FL-7th)).  Links for each chairperson are to their congressional web page.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

In the States -
  • Environment Iowa calls on Iowa leaders to curb agriculture pollution
  • USGS: Biofuels production has unintended consequences on water quality & quantity in Mississippi (state)
  • Ducks Unlimited & USDA-NRCS's Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Prog returning IL farmland to wetlands
  • Study at former Rhinelander WI manufactured gas plant site along Wisconsin River resumes
  • WI Brd of Ag considering adding ~10,000 Ac to 1.2 M where herbicide atrazine cannot be used due to polluted wells
  • Two natural Mississippi River waterfalls could be recreated around downtown Minneapolis island
Floodplains, Dams and Navigation -
Agriculture -
Water Quality-
  • Parking lot/driveway sealants largest contributors to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in urban lakes & reservoirs
  • Minneapolis, St. Paul, Blaine & Prior Lake MN show interest in installing SAFL stormwater baffles
  • Florida Sues EPA Over Water Standards (may have nationwide repurcusions)
Events -
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Congress passes Asian Carp import prevention bill [tho that horse may have already left the barn]
  • KY and TN considering reopening hunting for sand hill cranes
  • Columbia Environmental Research Center researchers study intersex sturgeon in the Missouri River
  • RT @InvasiveNotes: USDA-ARS climate change & invasive weed address at AGMasters conference
  • Penn State research: states might want to establish invasive species quarantines at their borders
  • National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species launches redesigned invasive species website & resource page
Other news-
Political Scene -
  • GOP gets queasy on earmark ban; some think party may have overreached; impact on Army Corps projects cited
  • Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) chosen to lead powerful House Appropriations Committee
  • Democratic push to pass >100 public lands & water bills in lame duck session escalates
  • 120 groups sign ad urging omnibus water/wilderness bill passage (pdf of full page add)
  • SanFran Examiner Editorial: GOP must pick the right committee chairs
  • Political campaign reprise: How WI (D) Sen Russ Feingold lost
  • New poll shows Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) "would cruise to reelection" vs any Republican opponent
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) releases 2011 Senate calendar; convenes Jan 5
  • 2011 House Calendar now available on Majority Leader-elect Eric Cantor’s website (pdf)
  • Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) selected to chair House Agriculture Committee in 112th Congress
  • House narrowly passes year-long FY 2011 Continuing Resolution; Senate fate unknown

U.S. House of Representatives Committee Chairs Named

On Wednesday, the House Republican Conference approved new committee chairs for the 112th Congress, which convenes on January 5 (see "Calendars," below in this blog).  Here is a summary of the incoming Chairpersons for each committee (listed alphabetically):
  • Agriculture-Frank Lucas (OK)
  • Appropriations-Hal Rogers (KY)
  • Armed Services-Buck McKeon (CA)
  • Budget-Paul Ryan (WI)
  • Education and Labor-John Kline (MN)
  • Energy and Commerce-Fred Upton (MI)
  • Financial Services-Spencer Bauchus (AL)
  • Foreign Affairs-Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL)
  • Homeland Security-Peter King (NY)
  • House Administration-Dan Lungren (CA)
  • Judiciary-Lamar Smith (TX)
  • Natural Resources-Doc Hastings (WA)
  • Oversight and Government Reform-Darrell Issa (CA)
  • Rules-David Dreier (CA)
  • Science and Technology-Ralph Hall (TX)
  • Small Business-Sam Graves (MO)
  • Standards of Official Conduct-Jo Bonner (AL)
  • Transportation and Infrastructure-John Mica (FL)
  • Veterans' Affairs-Jeff Miller (FL)
  • Ways and Means-Dave Camp (MI)

2011 Congressional Calendars

The 112th Congress’s Republican House majority released the 2011 House calendar on Wednesday  (pdf).   The calendar gives House members at least a full week each month in their districts and differs quite a bit from the 2011 Senate calendar (the House includes the monthly week’s off and does not include the Senate’s full weeks off for Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial and Independence days, for example).  The Senate's 2011 calendar was released by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) office on Tuesday  (on-line here and pdf here).

Key dates and planned recesses include:
  • Congress will convene on Wednesday, Jan. 5.
  • Recess Week of Jan. 17 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) Senate
  • Recess Week of Jan. 31 House
  • Recess Week of Feb. 21 (Presidents Day) both chambers
  • Recess Week of March 21 both chambers
  • Recess Weeks of April 18 and 25 both chambers
  • Recess Week of May 16 House
  • Recess Week of May 30 (Memorial Day) Senate
  • Recesses Weeks of June 6 and 27 House
  • Recess Week of July 4 (Independence Day) Senate
  • Recess Week of July 18 House
  • Recess Week of Aug. 8 through Labor Day, Sept. 5 both chambers
  • Recess Week of Sept. 26 both chambers (includes the start of Rosh Hashana on Sept. 29)
  • Recesses Weeks of Oct. 17 and 24 for the House and Senate, respectively
  • Recess Week of Nov. 7 House
  • Recess Week of Nov. 21 (Thanksgiving) House
  • Target adjournment for the House Dec. 8 (Senate does not set a target)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week (Mega Post-holiday edition)

NRC Highly Critical of Obama Administration's Principles and Guidelines Update

On December 2 the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released its highly-anticipated report on the draft Principles and Standards proposed last year by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).  In the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (WRDA) Congress directed the Secretary of the Army to revise the Principles and Guidelines (P&G) that had guided water resources project planning for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority since the early 1980s.  The Obama Administration is seeking to update and to expand the scope of the P&G (i.e., to cover all federal agencies that undertake water resource projects, not just the four agencies currently subject to the P&G).   As part of that effort, the CEQ released its "Proposed National Objectives, Principles and Standards for Water and Related Resources Implementation Studies" in December, 2009 (see CEQ's web page here).

The NAS report from the National Research Council (NRC) is a review of that 2009 document (a review directed by Congress in WRDA 2007).  A link to the entire NRC report, along with supporting materials, can be found here.   The NRC is highly critical of CEQ's effort in its report, finding, in part, that "the 2009 proposed revisions lack clarity and consistency in several respects. Given that the 2009 document represents only a partial revision to the P&G document, and given several areas of ambiguity and incompleteness in the 2009 proposed revisions, detailed advice on specific planning procedures at this point would be premature. As CEQ proceeds with further revisions to the P&G document, clarification and specification in these areas detailed (herein) will be necessary for the document to be of value to CEQ and the federal agencies that will use the document in decision making."

USDA Announces Three Key Mississippi River Basin Funding Initiatives for Fiscal Year 2011

During this past week, the USDA made three announcements that focus on Mississippi River Basin clean water initiatives under the agency's purview.  These included a Fiscal Year 2011 Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (or MRBI) Request for Proposals, a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program funding announcement, and an announcement of continued funding for existing water quality improvement projects in the Mississippi River Basin under the MRBI. 

A press release was issued on Monday, announcing that USDA will fund 70 existing conservation projects in 41 eligible watersheds in 12 states during the 2011 Fiscal Year as a continuing part of its MRBI.  (the 12 states are Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin).

Also on Monday, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) published a Federal Register notice (PDF file here) announcing a request for proposals (RFP) for 2011 Fiscal Year MRBI Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI; $15 million) and Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP; $25 million) funding.  NRCS will provide assistance for projects in 43 designated watershed focus areas (8-digit HUCs) in 13 states (Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, South Dakota, and Wisconsin).  Proposals are due by January 28, 2011. 

On Tuesday, NRCS published the 2011 Fiscal Year CIG funding announcement on its web site, calling for special CIG emphases in the Chesapeake Bay and Mississippi River watersheds. The actual notice (PDF file) is here. Under CIG, Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds (an anticipated $25 million in Fiscal Year 2011) are used to award competitive grants to non-Federal governmental or non-governmental organizations, Tribes, or individuals.  For the Mississippi River Basin, according to the NRCS announcement, "only pre-proposals that demonstrate the use of innovative technologies and/or approaches to address at least one bulleted topic specific to and within the Mississippi River Basin and address the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) objectives to manage and optimize nutrient management, reduce downstream nutrient loads, maintain agricultural productivity, and enhance wildlife and other ecosystem services will be considered."  Applications for the pre-proposal phase must be received at the NRCS National Headquarters by 4 p.m. EST, on December 28; selected pre-proposal applications will be announced by January 17.  Full proposal packages will be due by March 4.

Input on National Flood Insurance Program Reform Alternatives Sought

The Federal Emergency Management Agency ("FEMA") is involved in an effort to identify options for reforming the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and has, for over a decade, sought input and conducted internal assessments on NFIP and its management by FEMA.  This effort has culminated in a three-phase thorough evaluation, the first two of which were completed in 2009 and the first part of 2010.  Those first two phases involved (1) capturing stakeholder concerns and recommendations from a November 2009 NFIP Listening Session, and (2) creating an NFIP Reform Working Group to conduct additional analyses of stakeholder feedback and develop NFIP evaluation criteria (see this FEMA NFIP reform page for more background information).   The third and final phase has now begun (creating a portfolio of public policy options and evaluating them using the criteria developed in Phase II).

On December 2, FEMA hosted a meeting in Washington, D.C. to describe, update and explain the public policy options being presented for consideration and to hear comments from interested stakeholders (a second similar meeting will be held on December 9, in Denver, CO).  At the December 2 meeting FEMA (photos here)   presented four policy "themes" and two to four alternatives for moving forward with reform within each of the four theme areas.  The four policy theme areas (and links to PDF files for further descriptions) are:

    * Privatization of the National Flood Insurance Program
    * Community-Based Flood Insurance Options
    * Federal Assistance Options
    * National Flood Insurance Program Optimization

After the alternatives have been refined and vetted (taking into account public feedback from the two December meetings and comments provided online (see below)), the NFIP Reform Working Group will evaluate the proposed policy alternatives and score them using the evaluation and weighting criteria developed during Phase II. The policy alternative with the highest score, or a combination of high-scoring elements from several of the alternatives, will become the recommended NFIP Reform policy that will be developed into a full NFIP Reform package (including any proposed legislative, regulations and policy. The package will then be submitted to senior management in FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security leadership for consideration.

FEMA continues to solicit input from stakeholders on their NFIP reform effort and related policy alternatives. Comments can be submitted through Friday, December 31, to the NFIP Reform Working Group here.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week: 

In the States -
Floodplains, Dams and Navigation -
Agriculture -
  • New USDA rule on Wildlife Habitat Incentive Prog adds priority for wildlife habitat restoration & enhancement
  • Newswise: Seeds of Gulf Dead Zones Are Draining from U.S. Farms
  • North Country PR: Are farmers hurting the Gulf of Mexico more than BP?
  • Bipartisan group of Senators calls for end to tariff on ethanol imports & subsidies to ethanol blenders
  • Biipartisan group House reps urge Ag Comm Chair Peterson & Ranking Member Lucas to move on farm bill in 2011
  • U.S. farm supports would be cut 10 % under proposal made Wednesday by presidential panel on balancing budget
  • BREAKING: Obama's fiscal commission fails to adopt sweeping plan for managing federal budget deficit
  • Expiring ethanol tax credits extension could hitch a ride on possible omnibus appropriations package 
  • Commodity & land prices spiking in recent weeks in Iowa spark talk of an agricultural bubble
Wastewater and Stormwater-
  • Only 1/3 of utilities dealing with combined sewer overflows recover mitigation costs through user fees
Events -
  • EPA Webcast December 9: "Designing LID to Work: Lessons Learned from North Carolina"
  • AZ State U to host Resilience 2011: international conference on dynamics of social-ecological systems March 11-16, 2011
  • International Conference on modeling of urban water systems, Feb 24-25 2011, Toronto ON
  • "Troubled Waters" documentary on Mississippi River showing Dec 7 in St. Peter, MN
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
Other news-
  • NASA: World's lakes getting hotter, more than the air
  • Latest issue of EDF's Delta Dispatches with news on coastal Louisiana restoration is now available online
  • Duke University study finds elevated coal ash threat to groundwater
  • Clean Water America Alliance releases national dialogue summary report : "Managing One Water"
  • Job opening: Research Associate II-Outreach Coordinator, U of TN Knoxville. Dept of Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries
Political scene -
  • Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe vows to block natural resources/great waters omnibus bill
  • Last-minute water, lands, wildlife bill a "Frankenstein omnibus"- Rep. Hastings (R-WA)
  • New Republican rules would prohibit new increase in spending unless fully offset by equal cut in current spending
  • Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-IN) defying his party on an earmark ban 
  • Senate on Tuesday voted against a tea party-backed proposal to ban earmarks 
  • RT @MinnesotaNews: Dayton campaign says lead nearly 9,000 in MN Governor's recount 
  • GOP prepared to invoke congressional review over EPA rules

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thanksgiving Day Prayer of Healing

We join with the earth
and with each other to bring new life to the land

to restore the waters

to refresh the air
to renew the forests
to care for the plants
to protect the creatures
to celebrate the seas
to rejoice in the sunlight
to sing a song of the stars
to recall our destiny
to renew our spirits
to reinvigorate our bodies

to create the human community
to remember our children
to promote peace and justice

(from Grassroots Coalition for Environmental and Economic Justice, Clarksville, MD)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week (Pre-Holiday Edition)

Monthly Mississippi River Basin Update
The November Update (PDF file) from the Northeast-Midwest Institute on Mississippi River Basin issues is now available on line.  This month’s Update contains these items: 
  • 111th and 112th Congresses
  • Water Resources Development Act
  • Continuing Resolution and Prospects for an Appropriation Bill
  • NRC Report: Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico
  • The Consequences of Dams Conference
  • Most River Flows across U.S. Altered by Land and Water Management, Leading to Ecological Degradation
  • National Great Rivers Research and Education Center Confluence Field Station Dedicated
  • Delta Dispatches
  • Upcoming Conferences, Events and Workshops

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

In the States -
  • EPA approves IA DNR designated use changes for 69 H2O bodies; disapproves 57 proposed changes
  • Cargill discharge into the Illinois River a focus of Environment Illinois report
  • EPA's proposed Hinkson Creek stormwater runoff restrictions draw stiff Columbia, MO city resistance
  • USGS Study: Mercury a health risk in Indiana fish
  • Op-ed: Courts should ensure WI waters meet federal minimum standards & don't "become pollution havens"
  • Minnesota keeps existing rule imposing limits on manganese in drinking water
Floodplains, Dams and Navigation -
  • MO Gov. Nixon urges federal diligence on Upper Mississippi River Comprehensive Plan; concerned about 'Plan H'
  • Summer of 1993 Great Mississippi River Flood photoshoot for National Geographic (stunning)
  • Engineers: Lowering New Orleans floodwalls could improve canal safety
  • Supporters of earmarks say they help fill infrastructure needs like deteriorating Mississippi R flood-controls
Agriculture -
  • "How should the farm subsidy program be changed?" 6 NY Times blog perspectives:
  • USDA designates 28  southern Missouri counties as natural disaster areas because of severe drought
  • Environmental economist op-ed: "Muddy rivers-don’t blame farmers"\
  • USDA releases final FY10 contract & payment data for conservation easement programs
  • OK Farm Bureau: top Farm Bill priority: continuation of direct payments & revenue assurance
  • Conservative GOP senators calling on Congress to let billions in ethanol subsidies expire
Wastewater and Stormwater-
  • Op-ed: Courts should ensure WI waters meet federal minimum standards & don't "become pollution havens"
  • Illinois River makes mighty comeback
  • Study: 50% of the water used inside US homes can be reused to irrigate landscapes & flush toilets
Events -
  • Low Impact Development Conference: Greening the Urban Environment; Sept 25-28, 2011, Philadelphia, PA
  • Mississippi River Bald Eagle program set for Dec. 5 Visitor Center at Locks & Dam #15
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
Other news-
Mississippi River Basin politics -
  • Post-Thanksgiving portion of Congressional lame duck destined to last at least till Friday, Dec. 17
  • Today Senator Stabenow (D-MI) announced she will chair the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee
  • NSAC: Federal Appropriations Likely Headed for Continuing Resolution
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell's earmark power credited for revitalizing Louisville's Ohio River waterfront

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (Teleconference Today)
The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), in collaboration with other Federal, State and local agencies as well as non-governmental entities, is conducting the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) pursuant to provisions of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. GLMRIS will explore options and technologies, collectively known as aquatic nuisance species (ANS) controls, that could be applied to prevent and reduce the risk of ANS transfer between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins through aquatic pathways.  The GLMRIS team is hosting a teleconference today at 11 AM EST (10 AM Central) to answer questions the public may have regarding recently released documents or upcoming public scoping meetings. On November 9 USACE released the GLMRIS study plan to the public. The study plan outlines the scope of work and study process.
On December 15 USACE will hold the first of several public scoping meetings at the Gleacher Center in Chicago to receive comments from the public regarding the proposed study. Locations of additional scoping meetings are still being confirmed for meetings in the January-February timeframe. Specific details on dates and locations on those meetings will be release by USACE when finalized.

Call-in information for today's call:
USA Toll-Free: (888) 830-6260
The study documents and other information about GLMRIS and the scoping meetings are available on the GLMRIS website.

Dams and Consequences
Last week I had the pleasure to participate in the "Experiments on Rivers: The Consequences of Dams-An Interdisciplinary Conference;" hosted by the University of Minnesota's Institute for Advanced Study and held at the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory in Minneapolis, Minnesota (some photos here).  The conference goal with respect to dams was to raise questions and explore complexities, provoke reflection, consider new perspectives and suggest future lines of inquiry in diverse disciplines and practices.  And at that promoting that goal, the Conference excelled. Links to the various talks by conference participants can be found here.

At the end of the conference Terry Cook from The Nature Conservancy (who addressed TNC's Sustainable Rivers Project) and I were paired in a final session ("Where Might We Go from Here?") meant to ground conference attendees in pragmatic, policy and programmatic frames of reference. Terry's excellent talk, and my talk, entitled "The Once and Future King" (at about the 34-minute mark) can both be viewed at the Session 4 link.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week: 

In the States -
  • IA panel gives initial approval to proposed CAFO rules designed to bring IA into Clean Water Act compliance
  • Critics worry that IA clean water regs will favor concentrated feedlots & leave state's streams/rivers polluted
  • Lake Rebecca (Rockford, MN) gets a dose of alum for algae blooms in an attempt to sequester phosphorus
  • Cities worried about MN DNR Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area rules
Floodplains, Dams and Navigation -
Agriculture -
Wastewater and Stormwater-
  • Prairie Rivers Network's "Stormwater Management: Guide to Managing Stormwater with Green Infrastructure" (pdf)
Events -
  • 76th North American Wildlife & Natural Resources Conference March 14-19, 2011; Kansas City MO
  • StormCon, Surface Water Quality Conference, August 21 – 25, seeking abstracts; submission deadline December 14
  • EPA webinar: "Climate Change Adaptation Tools for Addressing Water Issues" Dec. 2, 2010; 1-3pm EST
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Rare sunfish reacts positively to TNC wetland restoration efforts in IL River floodplains
  • Endocrine disruptors affecting male fish in Minnesota lakes
  • French Television focuses on Asian carp solution proposed to be located along Mississippi R in Grafton IL
  • Kaskaskia River sites to benefit from Ducks Unlimited assistance under new scope of work
  • Tundra swans now congregating on Mississippi River backwaters and pools
  • Corps on their study re: stopping invasive species migration btwn Great Lakes & Mississippi watersheds: could take years
  • Senate & House bills would list bighead carp among invasive & other "illegal" plants & wildlife under the Lacey Act
Other news -
  • USGS study "Mercury in Indiana Watersheds" - Coal-fired power plants contaminate fish, water
Mississippi River Basin politics -
  • Decisions on House committee leadership positions in next Congress won't come until December
  • Rep. Melissa Bean’s (D-IL) US House reelection bid ends as she concedes IL seat to Republican Joe Walsh
  • Bills up for vote next year for farms, highways & water projects will put fiscal conservatives to early test
  • Who will Democrats find to put on House Agriculture Committee?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week ("Early Edition")

Early Edition Released! 
Since your FNB ("Friendly Neighborhood Blogger") will be in travel mode the next two days, here is the "Early Edition" of this week's "Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week."  This edition will be updated with new news items during the rest of the week, as warranted and as time allows.

Shameless Plug

First a blatant plug and advertisement for what I'll be doing the next two days, which is presenting a talk entitled "The Once and Future King" at the "Experiments on Rivers: The Consequences of Dams-An Interdisciplinary Conference;" being held on Thursday and Friday, November 11-12, at the University of Minnesota's Institute for Advanced Study in Minneapolis.  The conference is free and open to the public, however, space is limited and pre-registration is advised. You may register by contacting the Institute for Advanced Study at or 612-626-5054.   The conference goal is to raise questions and explore complexities, to provoke reflection from consideration of new perspectives, and to suggest future lines of inquiry in diverse disciplines and practices.  So, it will be a great conference to attend even if you don't care to listen to yours truly. For more information about the conference, including a full agenda, visit here

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

In the States -

Floodplains, Dams and Navigation -
  • "The Once and Future King"- NEMWI talk at "Consequences of Dams-An Interdisciplinary Conference" Minneapolis; Friday
Agriculture -
  • When it comes to influencing how farmers grow their crops, the real power may someday be Walmart not Congress
  • Mid-term election has farmers across country nervous about what that might mean for 2012 Farm Bill
  • Conditions are right for a bubble in farmland real estate values
  • H2O scarcity to generate big returns for irrigation sector once climate change & population take toll on farming
  • Groups file suit to overturn EPA decision allowing higher gasoline ethanol levels; say it could push up food prices
Events -
  • U of MN's "Experiments on Rivers: The Consequences of Dams-An Interdisciplinary Conference" Thurs & Fri
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Minnesota-Wisconsin Invasive Species Summit; 2 states plan to share resources to fight invasives
  • MN DNR Invasive Species Program offering 3 types of Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Grants
Other news -
Mississippi River Basin politics -
  • House Ag Comm Chair Peterson lobbying Senate Budget Committee Chair Conrad to become Chair of Senate Ag Comm
  • Sen. Conrad to reporters: may step down as Senate Budget Comm Chair to become Ag Comm Chair
  • For KY House seat Rep. Ben Chandler's (D) 649-vote lead looks to hold with only recanvass to be completed
  • Likely recount battle ahead in Minnesota governor's race
  • Rep. Bean (D) trails Joe Walsh (R) by 347 for IL House seat; Few absentee ballots remain in Dem-friendly Cook Co; Walsh declares victory.
  • Rep. Rahall (D-WV) seeks to become ranking Democrat on House Transportation & Infrastructure Comm
  • Dramatic change in House Ag Comm & new House & Senate Ag Comm leaders may change congressional ag focus

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

Most River Flows across U.S. Altered by Land and Water Management, Leading to Ecological Degradation
New USGS findings released in the journal of Ecological Society of America (ESA), Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, and accessible here have lead scientists to conclude that the amount of water flowing in streams and rivers has been significantly altered from land and water management in nearly 90 percent of waters that were assessed in a nationwide USGS study.  Flow alterations are a primary contributor to degraded river ecosystems and loss of native species whose survival and reproduction are tightly linked to specific flow conditions. Researchers found that these consequences can also affect water quality, recreational opportunities and the maintenance of sport fish populations. The USGS contact for the study and principle author of the ESA paper is Daren Carlisle, 703-648-6890,

Mississippi River Valley Bottomland Ecosystem Restoration Conference
The Bottomland Ecosystem Restoration Conference will be held from March 8-10, 2011 in Collinsville, Illinois.  Sponsored by the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Northeastern Area State & Private Forestry association, this three day conference is designed to bring together natural resource managers from federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, scientists, decision-makers, and other groups in the Upper Mississippi River System as well as the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley. The conference will link scientific expertise to specific restoration issues in an effort to provide better solutions to ecosystem management problems.  Presentations will highlight case studies that exemplify successes and failures encountered when applying ecosystem restoration techniques to large river bottomland ecosystems. The third day of the conference will consist of field trips to bottomland restoration sites in the region surrounding the Confluence of the Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri Rivers.  For more information, visit here.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Stormwater and wastewater -
  • American Water Works Association urges inclusion of water in proposed Federal infrastructure bank
Floodplains, Dams and Navigation -
Agriculture -
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory study: Corn-based ethanol doesn't result in land-use change elsewhere (pdf file)
  • Iowa Environmental Council: Report says EPA must set pollution limits in Mississippi river & Gulf
  • Growing grasses for biofuels could increase profits over corn/soy rotation for some farmers (pdf file)
  • What the midterms could mean for federal ag-policy reform
  • New Congress isn’t likely to start writing the next Farm Bill until 2012
  • New Ag Chair Lucas wants to wait until 2012 to pass new Farm Bill, while outgoing Chair Peterson wants it done in 2011
Events -
  • Aug 8-12, 2011: 2nd biennial symposium of the International Society for River Science, Berlin; abstracts due 12/20/10
  • March 8-10, 2011: Bottomland Ecosystem Restoration Conference; Collinsville, IL
  • "Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story" film to be shown in UW-Stout's Jarvis Hall; Nov. 17 at 7 PM
  • Upper Mississippi River Basin Assoc has posted its November 16-18 mtg agendas & background materials here:
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
Other news -
  • WI climate change impacts predicted by WI Initiative on Climate Change scientists
Mississippi River Basin politics -
  • Happy day-after-the-election day! The 2012 campaign starts now!
  • The Institute's mid-term election summary & implications for mainstem Mississippi River states:
  • What the midterms could mean for federal ag-policy reform
  • Want to know about the 24 new faces in the 112th Congress representing Mississippi River basin states? Our summary:
  • Kansas' top environmental official asked to step down by Gov. Mark Parkinson (but declines)
    KS Dept of Health & Environment Secretary, fired by Governor after declining to step down
  • The Who - "Won't Get Fooled Again" (will we?)

U.S. House and Senate New Member Information for the River Basin

Want to know who the new faces will be in the 112th Congress representing Mississippi River states?  We have updated our Mississippi River Basin mid-term election summary (see here, below) to include biographical information on each of the 24 persons newly elected to their House and Senate seats.  You can link directly to the pdf file summary here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Meet the New Boss"

A spreadsheet summary of Tuesday's mid-term Gubernatorial, US Senate and US House elections for the ten mainstem Mississippi River states is available now at this link (updated in real time as warranted).  The summary contains no adjustments for the watershed boundary, itself (i.e., the information includes House districts within a border state but outside the watershed). The information has been presented in PDF format for those who don’t necessarily want to use or adapt the spreadsheet. If you would like a copy of the original spreadsheet to work with and adapt on your own, please email Mark Gorman ( The summary includes some notes on individual election result implications. Here are some other, “35,000-foot,” first-cut observations:
  • There were 92 electoral contests in the ten states. As of now, four races (two US House and two Governor’s election outcomes) are still too close to call.
  • Republicans gained in 21 contested races (three Senate, three Governor, 15 House)
  • Democrats gained in one House race; held onto one contested Gubernatorial seat (Arkansas) and 26 House seats; and lost three Senate seats
  • In 66 contests there was no change in the party in power

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

Report: Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico
The Committee on Clean Water Act Implementation Across the Mississippi River Basin of the National Research Council released a report on Thursday, entitled "Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico."  The report offers strategic advice and priorities for addressing Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico water quality management and improvements.  The report committee members and authors found that there is general agreement that significant progress can be made under existing statutory authority and budgetary processes.  However, they note, there is considerable uncertainty as to whether national water quality goals can be fully realized without some fundamental changes to the Clean Water Act.
Key findings of the report include:
1. A basin wide action plan—developed by the Environmental Protection Agency, its partner federal agencies, and the Mississippi River States—would address nutrient-related water quality problems throughout the Mississippi River Basin and the Northern Gulf of Mexico.
2. A stronger and more coordinated commitment from the Environmental Protection Agency, its partner federal agencies, the Congress, the Administration, and the Mississippi River Basin States is needed to help develop long-term, adaptive and collaborative actions for effectively addressing water quality problems across the Mississippi River Basin and into the Northern Gulf of Mexico.
3. Establishing establish a numeric limit for the amount of nutrients in the waters of the northern Gulf would act as an endpoint for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Mississippi River States to set water quality standards for nutrients throughout the basin.
4. Support and advice from the Environmental Protection Agency could strengthen the activities of the Department of Agriculture Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative. 
Links to the full report, its abstract and a summary can be found on this National Academies Press web page.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week:  
Mississippi River Collaborative press release on NRC Mississippi basin nutrient report & recommendations (pdf file)
National Great Rivers Research and Education Center's River Research Facility Dedicated
USDA draft report: More intense farm conservation efforts needed in Chesapeake Bay region to reduce N & P runoff
New USDA program will pay farmers & forest owners to experiment with cellulosic energy crops
Invasive alga (Rock Snot') Prompts Missouri to Consider Ban on Felt-Soled Boots
NSAC's “Conserving habitat through the Federal farm bill: A Guide for Land Trusts and Landowners” (pdf file)
Today attending Horinko Group's Engaging the Public for River Sustainability and Livable Communities; info here:
The Northeast-Midwest Institute’s October Update on Mississippi River Basin issues is now available on line (PDF file)
Upper Mississippi River Basin Assoc meetings Nov 16-18; Rock Island, IL open to public
Democratic Party-2011 poised to shrink back to earlier form: more coastal & urban; less Southern, Midwestern & rural
Cook Political Report’s pre-election House outlook is Democratic net loss of 48-60 seats

Thursday, October 28, 2010

National Great Rivers Research and Education Center's River Research Facility Dedicated

The National Great Rivers Research and Education Center's (NGRREC) new, Platinum LEED-certified and state-of-the art, river research facility in Alton, Illinois was formally dedicated on Tuesday, October 26, and named in honor of U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello (IL-12).  Along with Congressman Costello, speakers at the Confluence Field Station dedication included U.S. Representative John Duncan (TN-2); Col. Thomas O'Hara and Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh of the Army Corps of Engineers' Mississippi Valley Division; Lewis and Clark Community College President and NGRREC Board Chair Dr. Dale Chapman; Dr. Gary Rolfe, NGRREC Executive Director; Dr. John Chick, Field Station Director from the Illinois Natural History Survey; Dr. Richard Sparks, Scientist and Director of Research at Lewis and Clark Community College; Alton Mayor Tom Hoechst; University of Illinois Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter; Illinois State Representatives Dan Beiser and Jay Hoffman; Illinois State Senator William Haine; and Mark Gorman, Northeast-Midwest Institute Policy Analyst.

NGRREC intends that the new field station will be a gathering point for the world's river scholars and scientists, as well as people who live and work in the Mississippi River region, who will study the ecology of the Mississippi River system and other large rivers, the workings of the watersheds that feed them, and the ties to the river communities that use them.

Click here for photos of construction of the new Confluence Field Station, and here for photos from the day of the dedication.  A copy of Mark Gorman's remarks at the dedication can be read here

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reflections on the Dedication of the Confluence Field Station: National Great Rivers Research and Education Center

Reflections offered by Mark Gorman at the October 26 dedication of the Confluence Field Station: National Great Rivers Research and Education Center, named for U.S. Representative Jerry Costello (D-IL-12th):

Three months ago, you may recall, twenty percent of Pakistan lay beneath the waters of the Indus River; a River that beforehand had been largely held in check by hundreds of miles of levees and an extensive dam system; in check, that is, until what U.N. officials call the worst natural disaster ever to hit that region drove the River beyond its levees and over or through its dams, forcing millions to flee and adding desperation to millions more already needing relief.  And as this was all happening, 40-year-old Pakistani taxi driver Bakht Zada wondered aloud, "If this is not God’s wrath, what is?" as he watched his livelihood, and his history and his culture all rush downstream into the Indian Ocean.

What we now know all too well is that the flooding and desperation and desolation were not the wrath of a vengeful God but the direct result of frequently well-intentioned but typically misguided attempts to tame a River, exploit its resources and develop its floodplains - all hampering the valley’s natural resiliency and thwarting an innate human capacity to adapt and survive.   And all compounded by a climate running amuck at our own hands.

Here’s what I believe is happening that directly and increasingly contributes to catastrophes like that in Pakistan; making it increasingly difficult – if not impossible - to find a path forward toward economic and environmental sustainability.  Happening not just in the Indus River valley, but in other Great River regions around the world, very importantly right here in the Mississippi River valley, and in Washington DC. We are divided into two camps.  Put most simply, they are “yours” and “mine.”  Now, you may have heard them referred to in other terms: urban and rural, farm and city, business and environmental, young or elderly, immigrant or resident, liberal and conservative, blue and red, Democrat or Republican.  The specific labels don’t matter.  Because in the end it always comes down to yours and mine.

The Bakiga people inhabit the mountains and valleys around Lake Victoria in what is today Uganda - at the very headwaters of another great river - the Nile.  Over hundreds of generations, their ties to the land and water and each other have informed an ancient wisdom strikingly opposed to the “yours and mine” mentality sweeping much of the world: "united jaws crush the bone.” 

Centers of study and innovation such as this reflect that ancient wisdom; a wisdom that teaches that it’s never been yours and mine.  It’s not you and me.  It’s ours and us.  All are connected.  Everything is connected.  Everywhere there are connections. 

What the people of the Nile valley learned so many generations ago and what this place and its people embody is that neither you nor I are right or wrong; good or bad; evil or moral; friend or enemy.  We’re just different.  In each place we speak different jargons, hold different customs, connect differently, interact with government differently, relate to nature differently – it’s just who we are and what we do as blessedly assorted human beings.  And the solutions that may work very well in one river town or on one farm might not work so well in another.  And the only way to really determine what will work and what might not is to listen to people where they live and work and play.  Right here - along the banks of the Mississippi River – in this place.

What we will discover here is that we have everything to learn and nothing to fear from each other.  We will find here that division of opinion, when embraced honestly, is what animates thinking and rouses creativity.  We will discover here that the irrational fears keeping us apart – keeping us from solving tough but very solvable problems - are, in the end, simply fear of losing control - control of things we really have no control over to begin with.  Just ask the people of Pakistan who tried to control the Indus River.  Or the residents of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, who hoped and prayed that the levees would hold.  Or the people of this River valley, who watch each spring as the Mississippi flows into their homes and streets and farms.

This special place will provide the room and help carve out the time we desperately need to listen to each other.  To listen to downtown store owners who can’t maintain their businesses; listen to municipal officials whose tax bases are eroding and to farmers whose soils and livelihoods are washing away; listen to the scientists who tell us this valley is a unique, global treasure; listen to the region’s workers and their families who can’t make ends meet; meet with artists, talk to politicians, speak to industry leaders, join with teachers, pay attention to the children and the poor and our elders, because everyone is a member of the economic and ecological quilt that forms the Mississippi River valley, and all have a part to play in its conservation.

The good people working here and all of us gathered here and the “all of us” beyond these walls had better make sure that this listening and understanding and cooperation and innovation come to pass; before 40-year-old taxi drivers and 22-year-old mothers and 5-year-old children and 60-year-old shopkeepers, and you and I, just like Bakht Zada watch as our livelihoods, and histories and cultures wash figuratively, if not literally, downstream into the Gulf of Mexico.

“United jaws crush the bone,” ancient wisdom teaches.  May we return time and again to this wonderful and special place, named for a gentleman whose life epitomizes united endeavors, and together make it so.  

- Mark Gorman
Policy Analyst
Northeast Midwest Institute