Jun 27, 2013 at 3:09 pm
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (KNSI) - From industry to exports to tourism - the Mississippi River is one of the United States' most valuable natural resources. At 2,500 miles long, it's the world's largest navigable river, accounting for $105 billion of our country's GDP.
But, like many natural resources, it faces its share of challenges, including floods, drought, invasive species and pollution.
With that in mind, a 2 year old consortium of mayors called the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, 20 of whom are presently in St. Cloud, have partnered with the Army Corps of Engineers by signing of a memorandum of common purpose.
The agreement was signed on Thursday at the River's Edge Convention Center.
The mayor-led effort decided to integrate the Corps in order to identify the most pressing concerns the river faces - both environmental and economic - and develop a stronger push for action on the Federal level in order to address them.
Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis, MO is co-chair of the Initiative, alongside mayor Dave Kleis of St. Cloud. He says, in examining the issues faced by the Mississippi, he's learned that his city and others are more similar than different.
"There are going to be some issues where something going on up river will affect down river, and we'll have different interests," Slay says. "But what I've found is we're all interested in improving the integrity of the river, from an enviromental and commercial standpoint, and together we've formed a strong organization."
Mayor A.C. Wharton of Memphis, TN, agrees. He says the role of the river in his city has as much cultural significance as it does economic.
"I have the fortune of having an office right on the river, and I watch the barge traffic for hours," he says. "But more importantly, the river is now becoming a residential location in Memphis with some of our most valuable homes. It's a place of recreation, and plays a critical role in quality of life."
Collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers came about as a result of the floods of 2011 and drought in 2012. The coalition hopes a unified voice will help protect and sustain the river in those events and inspire federal relief programs for issues like drought.
The upper Mississippi generates 1.2 billion dollars annually, generating $2 in economic activity for every dollar spent.
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