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Democrats, advocates pushing for bill to help conserve and restore Mississippi River

Matt Markgraf

Environmental advocates are pushing for the passage of a federal bill – co-sponsored by Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth of Louisville – that would create a multi-state effort to conserve the Mississippi River’s ecosystems, its water quality and its river communities.

The Democrat-sponsored legislation, introduced in June 2021, would create the Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative. It would create a central office in the multi-state basin to help coordinate local, state and federal projects and funding across state lines along the second-longest river in the United States. Among other things, projects from the initiative would focus on improving drinking water quality for river communities, upgrading flood protections for those communities, protecting wildlife habitats and mitigating the spread of invasive species.

The initiative would also place four research centers – three at universities along the river and one at an office of the United States Geological Survey – to conduct research on those focus areas. Kentucky Waterways Alliance Executive Director Ward Wilson said other regional partnerships to conserve ecosystems in the Great Lakes region and the Chesapeake Bay have seen broad bipartisan support.

“Clean water, healthy wildlife,” Wilson said. “Those aren't political talking points. Those are things that we all care about.”

The renewed call for action regarding the legislation comes after the advocacy organization American Rivers released a report Monday listing the Mississippi River among the top ten most endangered rivers in the country. The report says threats to the river include pollution from farm fertilizer runoff and microplastics impacting wildlife habitats, along with water infrastructure “degraded and inadequate to handle shifts in precipitation driven by climate change.”

“The Mississippi River has one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. There have been efforts to rehabilitate habitat,” the report states. “Yet the river is still in decline because state and federal programs are not coordinated and under-resourced.”

According to the National Park Service, the Mississippi River flows 2,350 miles through the continental United States to the Gulf of Mexico, including running past four far western Kentucky counties: Fulton, Hickman, Carlisle and Ballard.

Wilson said Republican Congressman James Comer – whose district includes the four Kentucky counties along the Mississippi River – and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have advocated for combating the spread of invasive Asian carp, something that is common ground with the legislation’s goals. Only Democrats have co-sponsored the bill so far.

“It's a good idea. You know, there's a power in a good idea,” Wilson said. “They need to see that there's broad public support for a healthy, clean river.”

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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