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Mississippi River Advocates, Army Corps To Hold Listening Sessions

Kate Payne/IPR file
The flooded Mississippi River swamped parts of downtown Muscatine earlier this year. River advocates and the Army Corps of Engineers are looking for feedback on how to better manage the river for floods, drought and navigation.

Eastern Iowa residents will have a chance to weigh in on flooding, drought and navigation on the Mississippi River at public meetings this month. Events are slated for this Saturday in Muscatine and July 27th in Dubuque.

The Upper Mississippi River Basin Associationand the Army Corps of Engineers are in the process of outlining a regional resiliency plan, and they’re looking for help from communities to do it. The proposal will ultimately cover five states and is meant to improve river management in the context of a changing climate.

For years, local communities, farmers, conservationists and the shipping industry have been grappling with how to preserve their relationships with the river, goals that are at times at odds with each other.

Increased rainfall and flooding puts pressure on the situation, as local governments and levee districts strugglewith how to insulate themselves from the effects. Whether to build up flood walls or bail out threatened levees, those decisions can have serious implications for local residents and neighbors up and down stream.

High waters have threatened railroads and shipping channels as well, stalling trade or spurring emergency infrastructure updates to raise flooded tracks, and spurring communities to amp up dredging efforts to keep waterways navigable. 

Now, UMRBA Executive Director Kirsten Wallace says it's time that the Upper Mississippi watershed come up with a forward-looking plan to help improve management, especially when it comes to flooding, drought, sedimentation and navigation.

Wallace hopes the public meetings will help bridge divides among interest groups on the Mississippi.

“It’s so important in my mind for those constituents to hear each other and then to say, ok I hear what you’re saying, how about we do some of what I want and some of what you want," she said.  "And what would that look like? And we would help them imagine what that could look like.”

Getting input from residents on the ground about their hopes and concerns will ultimately inform the regional plan that advocates can take to local, state and federal officials. 

“Before those decisions are made to invest money into a system plan, we do need to have these conversations to describe what that is, how they’re willing to work together, our stakeholders, plus our states and different levels of government, and show them exactly…a roadmap,” she said.

More listening sessionsare planned up and down river, with events slated for Winona, Minnesota, Godfrey, Illinois and Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter