America’s largest navigable waterway is under threat from climate change. Up and down the Mississippi River, cities are collaborating to protect this vital resource for their citizens and industry.
The largest waterway in the United States of America, the Mississippi river winds through ten states across the US heartland. It acts as a vital source of drinking water for more than 20 million people. It is a major freight transport route, a natural habitat and the vital water source for one of the world's most productive agricultural regions.
The river is central to many million livelihoods and fundamental to the biggest economy on the planet.
When the Mississippi River is in trouble, the costs are huge. In August 2016, for example, over US$10 billion of damages were wrought around the Baton Rouge area of Louisiana due to backwater collecting from torrential rainfall.
Since 2005, the Mississippi River Valley has seen record floods, major droughts, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Isaac. Disasters have become persistent and systemic; and as climate change worsens, the will only increase.
Collaborating for shared resilience
To manage the bounty of the river and the risks that come with it, communities in the region are working together in collaboration, under the banner of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI), an association of 80 Mississippi River Mayors from across all ten states bordering the river.
In the summer of 2017, mayors from 18 of the river’s key cities gathered in Washington DC to press Members of Congress and White House officials on the need to maintain and restore the infrastructure that manages America’s largest waterway. Their infrastructure proposal has the support of several businesses operating along the Mississippi River, as well as widespread community buy-in.
It is calling for investments totalling US$7.93 billion to restore the river’s floodplains and ecosystems and modernize its lock system.
Aware of the role of natural infrastructure in managing flood risk, the cities’ plans include options to add natural green space to reduce the costs of flood damage. For example, Davenport has adapted to flooding by creating a riverfront park, giving the river room to move and limiting the impact of flooding.
The full infrastructure proposal aims to sustain critical ecological assets, generate $24 billion in economic activity, create 100,000 new jobs, support eight sectors of industry, and mitigate hundreds of millions of dollars in disaster impacts.
This collaborative proposal, which is tailored to the needs and strengths of the region, shows how effective cities and towns can be when tackling water challenges together at the water basin level.
Updated September 2017.