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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Securing the Mississippi River: Pursuit for a Water Compact Amid Southwestern States’ Thirst

Wellenkamp, the executive of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, emphasizes a pressing need for a compact among the river states. As Southwest struggles with drought, climate change, and population growth, a compact could protect water levels, improve disaster responses and maintain sustainable water use, echoing the successful Great Lakes Compact.

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Russell Weaver
Russell Weaver
Russell Weaver is a renowned writer, celebrated for his vibrant storytelling and intricate world-building. Beyond being an writer, he's an artist, dedicated to crafting stories that captivate, transform, and linger.
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A rising concern is mounting among community leaders along the Mississippi River, as they foresee the increasing frailty of the water supply in the arid southwestern states. It is apprehended that in the not-so-distant future, these states may vie for the water of the Mississippi River. To stave off this threat, these leaders are considering the first move in a deterrent strategy.

This week, mayors from numerous cities flanking the river are anticipated to vote on the endorsement of a fresh compact among the ten states that the river traverses. Executive director Colin Wellenkamp of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative emphasizes on the strategic importance of having a compact to pool the collective power of the region to meet commonly shared targets, especially to prevent the diversion of the river water.

Wellenkamp goes on to mention the Mississippi River as “the most important working river on earth”, adding that it is crucial for the sustainment of this corridor to ensure its ecological health and hydrological robustness.

Southwest’s Pesistle Water Woes

The Southwest has been grappling with an acute scarcity of water for its burgeoning populace for years. This issue is further amplified by the periodic bouts of drought that plague the region, a situation that is further exacerbated by climate change. The Mississippi River basin, draining an expansive 40% of the continental US, holds the possibility of addressing these water woes – but at a hefty cost, both financially and environmentally.

Political Minefield Lying Ahead

The journey to formalize such a compact is strewn with numerous obstacles in the form of a long-drawn, politically charged process. This would require the consensus of all ten riverine states and further federal approval. The river flows from Minnesota and empties into the Gulf of Mexico, passing through Louisiana. This journey involves crossing both liberal states like Minnesota and heavily conservative states like Louisiana; hence, maneuvering this political terrain could indeed be challenging.

The proponents of a compact see many potential benefits such as preserving the river’s water levels and ecology, improved coordination during calamities, and providing a framework to resolve conflicts among these states.

Evoking Memories of Water Export Fears

Such fears have triggered political action in the past as well. A prime example is when a Canadian company during the 1990s planned to ship Great Lakes water to Asia. This can be considered a turning point for the establishment of the Great Lakes Compact, which has effectively enhanced cooperation between Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces in managing the water effectively.

However, David Strifling, director of Marquette Law School’s Water Law and Policy Initiative, was quick to mention that establishing an agreement like this is a challenging process only made more difficult by a heightened level of political polarization today.

Balancing Out Mississippi River Water Usage

The proposed compact aims not only to prevent diversions but also to promote sustainable water usage. The river’s water levels are often volatile, impacting commerce and the surrounding communities heavily.

Existing protections do act as a deterrent for large scale water diversions, such as states in the upper reaches of the river being required to give notifications before diverting water. The Upper Mississippi River Basin Association plays a crucial role in fostering cooperative management among these states. Current efforts are ongoing to understand and quantify water usage among these states and the implications on the river.

Expert opinion like Jennifer Gimbel, senior water policy scholar at Colorado State University, states that the way forward is fraught with challenges. Yet, there remains widespread consensus that this compact is a necessary first step in stringently safeguarding the ecological integrity and water security of the states bordering the Mississippi River.

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