The editor of Grist's recent series on the Army Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi River offers some thoughts about the future challenges and issues facing the region.
"I have a few answers, yes, but even more questions to explore. Below is my personal working list of issues that -- while perhaps less acknowledged nationally than the spectacular disaster that is New Orleans and the Louisiana coast -- rank high in determining a bright or dim future for the Mississippi Basin's communities, both human and wild."
"They have been assured for generations that they are safe -- and much of the time, that's true. In many locations, they are not expected to build differently to account for the (arguably) rare one-in-a-hundred flood. However, it's the exceptions -- violent, life-altering exceptions -- that prove the inherent risks of setting up life behind a levee."
"Should the same federal agency -- the Army Corps of Engineers -- be responsible for not only planning and building Mississippi Basin flood protections, but assessing how much environmental damage those projects will cause, fixing up that damage, and reporting back to Congress on how well all that went? And all from the same budget?"
"The Mississippi River has been so thoroughly engineered over the past two centuries -- and those changes so vociferously defended in the name of perpetuating the nation's economic growth -- that without deeper reflection, it would be tempting to call it a loss as far as "wild nature" is concerned. But the native ecological qualities and processes of the Mississippi and its wildlife -- its "ecosystem services" -- likely have at least as much value as the goods on the barges traversing the locks and dams. Who's quantifying that value, and what's the cost to us if it becomes impossible to recover?"