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Port expansion looks to new business

Commerce travels on the Mississippi River, seen from the McKinley Bridge looking south on Friday, March 8, 2013. The Municipal River Terminal has almost completed a $19.5 million upgrade, adding 600 feet of dock space visible just below the Arch at right. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

A consortium of environmentalists, academics and business groups says the Mississippi River watershed needs major action to fix infrastructure, cut flood risk and limit environmental damage.

Researchers for the group America’s Watershed Initiative will release a report in St. Louis Wednesday morning on the state of the Mississippi River and the other major rivers that flow into it. The so-called report card is meant to better coordinate action and measure progress across the vast swath of the country dependent on the Mississippi and its tributaries, such as the Missouri, Ohio and Illinois rivers.

And according to the authors, there’s a lot of work to do: they gave the watershed an overall grade of a D+.

“One of the key things is … to try and develop a shared vision,” said Harald “Jordy” Jordahl, the director of America’s Watershed Initiative, a partnership that includes the nonprofit Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, agricultural interests, barge companies and other businesses and associations. “There is no single institution that makes decisions for the Mississippi Watershed.”

The report card was compiled with help from researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. While the Nature Conservancy has taken a leading a role in the project, the report card is meant to measure more than environmental indicators.

For instance, among the worst-rated aspect of the rivers was infrastructure, which was given a grade of D- because of the poor condition of locks and dams.

“River transportation currently functions with some delays, but as these systems continue to deteriorate, catastrophic failures resulting in severe economic, public safety and water security problems can be expected to occur,” according to a summary of the report card provided to the Post-Dispatch.

The report also gave bad marks for flood control, “especially because people continue to move into the flood plain,” the summary says. It also pointed to the lack of progress reducing the size of the massive “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico caused by agricultural and other runoff the Mississippi River carries into the ocean.

Jordahl said there’s a growing realization that the narrow objectives advocated by interest groups with a stake in one particular aspect of the watershed aren’t yielding results.

“It’s becoming clearer to people that we need to come up with a more integrated way to view these challenges,” he said. “We need to come up with some solutions and broader coalitions to try and address these challenges.”

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