River mayors press on despite Farm Bill failure in House

MISSISSIPPI RIVER — Leaders of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI), a mayoral-led effort to create a coordinated voice for the Mississippi River, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mississippi Valley Division, have signed a memorandum of common purpose (MOCP) in support of meeting today’s challenges facing the Mississippi River as well as the collaborative actions needed to address them.

More than 20 river mayors were in St. Cloud, Minn., for MRCTI’s second-annual organizational meeting.

Mayors David Kleis, St. Cloud, and Francis Slay, St. Louis, co-chairs of MRCTI, and Maj. Gen. John Peabody, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mississippi Valley Division, represented by Edward Belk, senior civilian of the Mississippi River Commission, entered into an MOCP to encourage cooperation between the mayors along the main stem Mississippi River and the Army Corps in an effort to protect, sustain, and enhance the natural attributes and economic vitality of the Mississippi River

“The importance of this waterway simply cannot be overestimated. The River is truly the most valuable asset of our cities. It supports so much of our existence and is responsible for so much of our draw that the channel is the backbone of our economies,” said Kleis. “Droughts, floods, aging infrastructure, and contracting Federal involvement have all taken a toll. That is why, as mayors, we feel we need to act at a collective level.”

The MOCP was hastened by the 2011 floods, the 2012 drought and the violent storm events of spring 2013. The drought and the floods have led to deterioration of the Mississippi River region’s crops, made worse since no single federal agency was responsible for leading or coordinating drought-related response and recovery.

Through the memorandum, the river mayors established a first-ever collective partnership with the Corps, which is responsible for the water resources program within the 370,000-square-miles of the Mississippi Valley. The MOCP addresses issues facing the river, including shared priorities developed by the MRCTI mayors over the past year, such as:

• fostering the continued on the ground education and increased effectiveness of the newly formed bipartisan Congressional Mississippi River Caucus

• helping to focus federal resources to advance improvement in the river’s water quality

• encouraging the development of a National Drought Council that works with stakeholders to create a drought policy action plan and national drought preparedness information

• establishing a multi-agency initiative to develop and implement a coordinated strategy that aids local governments as they address aquatic invasive species in the River basin

• preserving the Pre-Disaster Mitigation program for hazard planning and project implementation

MRCTI mayors along with Congressman Bill Enyart (D-Ill.) last week introduced an amendment to the Farm Bill calling for the establishment of the National Drought Council to equip the nation with drought preparedness and response policy. Though the Farm Bill did not pass, the mayors are currently working with members of the Mississippi River Caucus to find an alternate vehicle. The council would be comprised of agency heads, governors, county executives, and mayors and charged with submitting preparedness and response recommendations to Congress within one year.

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