Mayors: As floods deluge Midwest towns, where is national response to climate disasters?

Jacob Frey, Frank Klipsch and Sharon Weston Broome, Opinion contributors Published 6:00 a.m. ET April 11, 2019 | Updated 9:07 a.m. ET April 11, 2019

Our broken river infrastructure is no match for what scientists predict is the new normal. We should not have to depend on sandbags. Not in America.

Americans are now seeing the nightmare unfold that mayors throughout the Midwest have warned about for years.

Breached levees, flooded farms, washed out roads and drowned homes are disrupting lives, devastating communities, and straining state and city budgets. But the floods that made headlines and caught the attention of 2020 presidential campaigners are not the first and won’t be the last. 

In the past 26 years, the Midwest has seen multiple 100-, 200- and 500-year  flood events. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that the flooding will get worse, bringing an “unprecedented” flood season to the heart of America. In fact, more flooding is expected in the coming days as a result of this week's  giant spring snowstorm.

Midwesterners are used to intense storms, but this extreme weather overwhelmed us. Torrential rains throughout the region washed the deep layer of snow into the rivers, causing record-breaking river rise and catastrophic flooding starting upstream and rushing downstream on the region’s major waterways. Our river infrastructure is no match for what scientists predict is the new normal.


The damage is staggering. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds says the flooding has cost her state an estimated $1.6 billion and submerged at least 1,200 homes. Roughly 70 miles of levees operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are damaged or destroyed, and the cost to repair them is estimated at $350 million. An additional 175 miles of levees that are not federally owned and operated also need repairs costing roughly an additional $175 million.

Minnesota is facing a  massive snowmelt, and Louisiana has been dealing with high water levels and the threat of floods since last November.

What does that mean? We are entering an unprecedented flooding season with an outdated and broken river infrastructure. Absent the necessary systemic solutions and support, we are left to pile sandbags around our homes, along our roads and around military bases, and hope for the best. Sandbags should not be our only option. Not in America. Not when we already know what we need to do to prepare and protect our communities.

Climate disasters require national response 

As leaders of the  Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, we work alongside  85 other mayors from  10 states bordering the Mississippi River to grapple with the environmental challenges facing the region. We understand the need for systemic solutions to climate challenges. When it comes to the environment and the critical national asset that is the Mississippi River, we are all in it together. 

For the past seven years, the mayors have presented to Congress and federal agencies a unified  infrastructure and investment plan to address the region’s growing vulnerability to disasters. Each year, our plan has become more advanced, highlighting new and innovative partners across the globe. But the sheer scale of the challenges we face can only be met through bold congressional action like a comprehensive infrastructure bill. An infrastructure package that includes transformative proposals like a resilience revolving loan fund and projects such as natural infrastructure restoration, sustainability, resilience and climate risk mitigation is critical.

Our work with the Mississippi River Caucus in the U.S. House and Senate has yielded progress. But it will take the will of a nation to meet the problems at the scale we face today — the wildfires of the West and floods of the central United States are prime examples that this is a national challenge.

The current administration proposed a budget that would set us back. It contains deep cuts to the Army Corps of Engineers, whose public servants maintain much of the levee system that we still rely on. The budget also threatens to deplete funding for critical domestic programs that cities along the Mississippi need. 

Rebuild old infrastructure for new reality

It would be easy to forget about the damage here once the headlines move on to the next crisis. But ignore the Midwest at your own peril. The Mississippi River and its tributaries span  31 states, covering 41% of the nation and supporting one of the most  agriculturally productive regions on the planet.

The river is the linchpin of the nation’s domestic freight and water infrastructure,  transporting 40% of the nation’s agricultural output, creating nearly $500 billion in annual revenue and directly supporting more than 1.5 million jobs. If we don’t invest in maintaining our nation’s busiest waterway, the losses will ripple throughout the country.

Mayors don’t have the luxury of distance and denial. We can’t complain about gridlock or blame the opposition. We have little time for grandstanding. We live in our communities, and we feel the consequences of our decisions. When it comes to tackling the immense challenge of rebuilding old infrastructure for a new climate reality, it’s long past time that Washington take some direction from leaders on the front lines.

Jacob Frey is the mayor of Minneapolis and a member of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative. Frank Klipsch is the mayor of Davenport, Iowa, and a co-chair of MRCTI. Sharon Weston Broome is the mayor of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and serves on the MRCTI Executive Committee. Follow them on Twitter: @Jacob_Frey@KlipschForMayor and @MayorBroome

Midwestern Towns Prepare to Navigate More Flooding (and a Climate-Denying President)

“Climate change is like a herd of elephants in the room. It’s impossible to ignore,” says head of Midwestern mayors coalition

By Sean Neumann

A neighborhood in Bellevue, Nebraska, flooded by waters from the Missouri River in March  Nati Harnik/AP/REX/Shutterstock

A neighborhood in Bellevue, Nebraska, flooded by waters from the Missouri River in March

Nati Harnik/AP/REX/Shutterstock

As mayors from towns along the Mississippi River huddled over their phones on March 22nd, they cautiously awaited answers from members of the National Weather Service and emergency agencies across the federal government: “How bad is the flooding going to be? And what can we do to stop it?”

Flooding devastated the central part of the country in mid-March, evacuating towns and killing three in Nebraska, which already faces $1.3 billion in damages from the swelling Missouri River. Other states, like Illinois and South Dakota, are facing evacuations ahead of more floods. In Missouri, the St. Louis area is fearing a repeat of 1993, when historic floods killed 50 people. Since 2011, St. Louis has experienced “once-in-a-lifetime” flood events on three separate occasions.

“It was like being in a giant situation room,” says Colin Wellenkamp, the executive director of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI), a group of 88 mayors from 10 states along the river working to better prepare for flooding, which been hitting the Midwest with more frequency and magnitude in recent years. The group traveled to Washington, D.C., last month to ask the federal government for $7.86 billion to reinforce infrastructure along the Mississippi, and it helped organize the late-March phone call that brought the mayors together with state legislators, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Army Corps of Engineers and more to discuss strategies for what looks to be a disastrous flooding season.

“We have just been pulverized by unprecedented events,” says Wellenkamp, who lives in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles. “Events that used to be on the 100-to-200 or 500-year scale are now back-to-back, one right after the other.”

Forecasters warn the worst may be yet to come this spring, due to record-setting snowfall in the upper Midwest this winter. While the winter snow melts into the Mississippi River, heavy rainfall in the coming months could create mass flooding.

“By the time we got to late February and early March, we had a big powder keg of snow sitting on the ground waiting to come south,” says Mark Fuchs, a senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service. “If you add that to where the rivers are at right now, it would be a bad deal going forward.”

Recent studies have found the chance of 100-year floods along the Mississippi River have increased by 20 percent over the past 500 years. As the Earth warms and its atmosphere becomes wetter because of climate change, extreme rain and snowfall events are more likely. The changing climate is also believed to be causing the jet stream over North America to stretch further south, carrying polar vortex winds down from the Arctic and into the United States, as we experienced in late January — making winters more brutally cold and producing more snow.  

Preventing the floods that follow may not be so easy, even with better infrastructure, as some experts have also blamed the increased flooding, ironically, on the levees themselves, which they say have straightened and “channelized” the water, thus increasing the flow. But the Army Corp of Engineers has said the existing levees have prevented $100 billion in damage over the years.

“The new climate normal we’re faced with is not lost on any of our mayors,” says Wellenkamp. “Our mayors may have to talk about it differently at home inside their cities, depending on who they’re having the conversation with — that’s just a reality on the ground — but collectively as an association, the climate risk is not lost on us.”

Climate change has been lost on the Trump administration, however, which has made efforts to remove mention of it from federal websites and resources, moved full steam ahead to facilitate the burning of more fossil fuels, and Trump has continuously mocked the idea of climate change.

In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2019

“It is unfortunate, because I think it does take solutions off the table,” says Wellenkamp, reflecting on his mayors’ meetings last month with national lawmakers, including White House staff, where he says mayors didn’t hold back on bringing up climate change. “You’ve heard the expression about the gorilla in the room, right? Well, with climate change it’s like a herd of elephants in the room. It’s impossible to ignore.”

Wellenkamp says there was no “rebuff” of climate change when speaking with members of Congress, especially at a bipartisan breakfast where Wellenkamp says Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa) sat next to each other and openly discussed the issue. In his perception of it, Wellenkamp says global warming seems to be an accepted reality among lawmakers, just not in the White House. “It’s of concern that the position of the administration seems to be mired in this hesitance or unconvincability of it all,” he says.

“The good news is that in working with Congress, all the solutions are on the table and that’s where we focus our energy,” Wellenkamp says.

Influence from the White House is still a roadblock, though. Congress rejected a $13 billion emergency relief plan Monday that would have given aid to states reeling from flood damage along the Missouri River; the Senate rejected the relief package after Trump complained on Twitter about Puerto Rico seeing too much funding from the plan.

But Wellenkamp’s Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative is hoping for more than just emergency relief for what has seemingly become a chronic issue. In Clarksville, Missouri — about 80 miles north of St. Louis, along the Mississippi River — mayor Jo Anne Smiley tells Rolling Stone that the increased flooding in recent years has had a “devastating impact” on the local economy, with many local businesses sitting about 100 feet from the river.

“Before I came into office 15 years ago, I was told not to worry about flooding because there had been a 100-year flood and a 500-year flood. I didn’t have to worry, they said, it wasn’t going to happen again,” recalls Smiley, an MRCTI mayor who is spending her afternoons directing local volunteers to fill sandbags for a flood wall. “Since that time we’ve had something nearly every year and sometimes twice in one year.”

Floodwaters in Clarksville reached 34.2 feet this past weekend, nearly 10 feet above the local flood level. Flooding is feared to get worse, with temperatures across the Midwest expected to be in the mid-70s later this week and two and a half feet of snow left to melt in parts of the Mississippi River Valley.

Smiley says the town doesn’t have a permanent floodwall because its economy relies on riverfront tourism. The mayor says she’s asked the state government for a temporary floodwall for over a decade, but to no avail.

Missouri farmers have concerns as well: The mid-March flooding will delay field work for some farmers for about a month, a disruption to the state’s $88 billion agricultural industry. “Farmers along the Missouri River are in the midst of a fight with flood waters the likes they haven’t seen since before 1993,” Ashley McCarty, executive director of the agricultural advocacy group Missouri Farmers Care, says. “It looks like this is just the beginning of the flood pressures and devastation that is predicted this spring.”

The MRCTI is hoping to reach a deal with federal lawmakers to allocate $7.86 billion to help reinforce infrastructure that prevents flooding and to better prepare areas along the Mississippi. The request is a small asking price, the group says, compared to the billions in damage Midwestern states along the Mississippi corridor will pay in the coming years. MRCTI says the region has already sustained $50 billion in losses since 2011.  

As extreme weather linked to climate change continues to cause more flooding the Midwest is expected to pay more than $500 million a year to adapt urban stormwater systems to handle larger volumes of water, and $400 million per year by 2050 to keep bridges functional, according to federal estimates. By the end of the century, annual road maintenance is expected to rise by $6 billion annually with another $1 billion impact on railroad transportation.

Despite dismal predictions, Wellenkamp is feeling optimistic because of the growing effort each year to stop the flooding before it starts. The phone call on March 22nd lasted longer than the hour they budgeted for – proof, he says, that there’s an increased awareness and interest in solving the issue. MRCTI leaders like Wellenkamp are also hopeful they’ll get much of the $7.86 billion they requested from the federal government last month and take a bite out of the Midwest’s flood fight.

“We came together in the midst of disaster,” Wellenkamp says. “We’re better prepared now than we were years ago.”

FLOODS: Along Mighty Mississippi, cities swap sandbags for marshes

Daniel Cusick, E&E News reporter

Published: Monday, March 25, 2019

Flooding in Grafton, Ill., in June 2008. Mayor Rick Eberlin is exploring new ways to cope with high-water events. Steve Nagy/MCT/Newscom

Flooding in Grafton, Ill., in June 2008. Mayor Rick Eberlin is exploring new ways to cope with high-water events. Steve Nagy/MCT/Newscom

Mayor Rick Eberlin of Grafton, Ill., knows that by the end of this week he will probably be in another fight with the Mississippi River.

But sandbags and flood walls are not in his arsenal.

The city of 640 people just below the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers will allow floodwaters to sweep across its low-lying areas, enveloping roads, parks, docks and a strip of scruffy riverside lots where no one has lived since the Great Flood of 1993.

"We don't use walls or sandbags. There's nothing to protect," Eberlin said Friday afternoon. "What we do is pray that it doesn't get as high as the forecast. Then we cope with it."

But don't mistake Eberlin's resignation as surrender.

Grafton has been through 18 high-water events since 1993, and Eberlin, a farmer, has learned a few things about negotiating with the Mississippi River. One is to let flood tides go where they want to go.

Eberlin is one of a growing number of Mississippi River mayors who are rethinking what it means to live next to a river whose floods seem less predictable than ever — when spring rains become bomb cyclones and six weeks of gradual winter snowmelt can be compressed into two weeks of sheet-flow flooding across frozen ground.

"What used to be a high-water event every two, three, five years, now it seems we're getting it every year, sometimes twice a year," Eberlin said. "I know we've got a different weather pattern, and the events are getting more fierce."

Towns like Grafton have little choice but to take adaptation to the next level.

Rather than simply pulling back from the river's edge, communities are looking at landscape-scale flood control measures that are also environmentally restorative. Towns are constructing — or rather, allowing nature to reconstruct — marsh and wetland areas that were once the targets of dredges.

When Grafton built a new riverside marina in 2006, it placed tons of dredge material into a river shallow to help establish what is now a functioning wetland that traps sediment; slows water; and provides habit for fish, waterfowl and small mammals.

It also helps reduce flood damage downriver, where communities south of St. Louis have witnessed some of the worst floods on record over the past decade. The events have fueled debate over the role that levees and flood walls have in worsening flood conditions for downstream neighbors (Climatewire, Aug. 8, 2018).

Colin Wellenkamp, executive director of the St. Louis-based Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, said mayors along the entire 2,300-mile length of the river are beginning to see the picture.

"We're more conscious of these things," he said. "Our mayors are really beginning to focus on not just managing water in their town, but managing on a corridor scale. It's not easy and it's not cheap, but it makes a hell of a lot more sense, and it saves the taxpayer a lot of money."

'Doing exactly what it's supposed to do'

Davenport, Iowa, located a few hundred miles upriver from Grafton, has been an exemplar of landscape-level flood protection.

The city of 102,000 is home to the largest urban wetland on the Upper Mississippi River. Known as the Nahant Marsh, the 305-acre preserve was for decades a hunting and skeet-shooting club. When the club closed in 1995, the marsh was so polluted with spent lead that more waterfowl were dying of toxic exposure than gunshot.

EPA declared the Nahant Marsh a Superfund site in the late 1990s. After the removal and cleaning of about 60,000 cubic yards of toxic soil, the site was handed back to the city. It's managed today as an education center, providing residents with rare access to seasonally wet bottomland forest, marshland and open water habitat.

But the Nahant Marsh's greatest community benefit is its ability to act as a massive urban floodwater sponge, catching and filtering up to 2 billion gallons of water during peak flows on the Mississippi.

Brian Ritter, executive director of the nonprofit organization that manages the marsh, said the city of Davenport has long viewed flooding as part of its natural heritage and has adapted accordingly.

Like Grafton, Davenport has no levee or flood wall. Its roughly 9-mile riverfront, including its signature park, is designed to be submerged in floodwaters for weeks at a time.

Former Davenport Mayor Pat Gibbs, who was criticized in the mid-1990s for refusing to build a flood wall along the waterfront, told the Quad-City Times last June that he has no regrets about the decision, even as Davenport's across-the-river neighbor, Rock Island, Ill., stands by its decision to build one in the 1970s.

"I still believe you give to the Mississippi what belongs to it," Gibbs told the newspaper. "If the water wants to come in, it'll come in no matter what you build."

But as flood frequency and intensity has risen over the last 25 years, the Nahant Marsh has become a community asset in ways few people considered before the Great Flood of 1993.

"We're flooding right now," Ritter said last week. "The river went up last week, and the forecast says it will go up again in early April. Our soils are completely saturated, so the marsh is doing exactly what it's supposed to do."

Like Eberlin in Grafton, Ritter has kept tabs on high-water events in Davenport over the last two decades. He is convinced climate change is leading to more extreme precipitation and more floods.

"This is our 21st flood that we're experiencing since the year 2000," he said. "Historically on this stretch of the river, it was one or two floods per decade."

"I mean, you know, climate change and land use — it's the double whammy," he added. "At one time we had this wonderful prairie sponge all through the Midwest that would soak up the rain and snowmelt. Now we have to build the sponge."

Even the Army Corps of Engineers, which has invested billions of dollars to line the Mississippi River with levees and flood walls over the last century, has begun to see the benefits of reconnecting the river to its natural floodplain.

In 2017, the Army Corps worked with Iowa, county officials and the Green Island Levee District to buy out privately owned farm tracts along the Maquoketa River, a Mississippi River tributary south of Dubuque, that saw frequent severe flooding.

After high water breeched a 1940s-era levee on the Maquoketa in 2010, the Army Corps opted not to patch the holes but instead offer it to the state as an extension of the 4,000-acre Green Island Wildlife Management Area, one of the state's most important flood backwaters and wildlife sanctuaries.

Calls to the Army Corps' Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program, based in Rock Island, were not returned Friday.

Ross Baxter, land projects director for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, said at the time that returning the affected areas to a natural state avoided future infrastructure expenses while better protecting other surrounding farmland from floods.

"Ultimately it made more financial sense to buy, protect and restore the land than fix the levee and continue to farm the flood-prone land," Baxter said.

Nathan Woiwode, North America climate adaptation project manager for the Nature Conservancy, said the organization has observed a significant uptick in nature-based flood protection measures in the Mississippi River Basin, especially in states like Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.

"These states are taking very intentional looks at how they've done floodplain management in the past," Woiwode said. "It's not purely about flood protection. It's also about protecting agricultural interests and creating community assets."

Woiwode als pointed to the recently launched "Engineering With Nature," an Army Corps initiative that aims to incorporate natural solutions to water management. The agency in January published an atlas detailing 56 projects that apply nature-based approaches to challenges around river management and flood control.

"It's about understanding that the things we used to be able to rely upon, like how the water moves through a river system, it's all changing," he said. "It's about recognizing that we need to start planning for a very different future."

Mississippi River Mayors Present at U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit on Importance of River Valley Ecology in Curbing Impacts of Climate Change

Mayors call for profile on river's environmental services

For Immediate Release May 31, 2016

Contact: Jim Gwinner,, 314-791-2774

Beijing, CHINA (June 7, 2016)—Following global river talks in Paris during COP 21 and in Mexico during the World Assembly of River Basins last week, Mayors of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI) represented America’s most important waterway at the U.S.- China Climate Leaders Summit presenting on the importance of river valley ecology in capturing carbon. Mayor Chris Coleman of St. Paul, MN and Mayor Roy Buol of Dubuque, IA urged important natural infrastructure provided by river valley be made part of city carbon reduction efforts and called for a profile of the Mississippi River’s environmental services.

“A U.S. River Cities association is playing a role in this Summit because climate impacts are not confined to city or state boundaries, they are multi-regional in scope; and, freshwater ecosystems like the Mississippi River Valley play a valuable role in reducing our greenhouse gas footprint,” said Chris Coleman, Mayor of St. Paul, MN and Co-Chair of MRCTI.

“Our natural infrastructure has carbon and other greenhouse gas reductive properties. A 2013 study by the Smithsonian found that freshwater wetlands, for instance, can absorb up to 32 percent more carbon in greenhouse intensive environments. Forests, marshes, streams, and creek vegetation fed by rivers add to greenhouse gas storage capacity,” explained Roy Buol Mayor of Dubuque, IA and Immediate Past Co-Chair of MRCTI.

The Mayors also shared the MRCTI food and water security agreement they brokered in Paris and added signatories to in Mexico last week during the World Assembly of River Basins. The agreement seeks to protect surface and ground waters to ensure food security and access to drinking water mitigating climate change threats to river basins.

Since China produces food for more than 20 percent of the world’s population and that production is partly sustained by the agriculturally rich three rivers plain, it is important China be included in the effort to protect the world’s food-producing river basins from climate change.

River basins produce the majority of the world’s food supply. Among these, the Mississippi River Basin ranks first in production capacity and China is second. MRCTI has secured signatures to the agreement from river basin organizations comprised of more than 70 nations.

MRCTI is an effort to bring national attention back to the Mississippi River—America’s most critical natural asset—and spearhead a new level of regional cooperation to make it more sustainable. As the ecological linchpin to the 31-state Mississippi River Basin, the River is responsible for creating $400 billion worth of U.S. GDP; providing drinking water for more than 20 million; transporting 40 percent of our nation’s agricultural output; and directly supporting 1.3 million jobs and millions more indirectly.

More information is available at Contact: Jim Gwinner, 314-791-2774. 

In Paris, the Stakes Could not be Higher: Mayors Represent MSR at COP21

In Paris, the Stakes Could not be Higher - our food and water lay in the balance

An Op-Ed from the Board of MRCTI, 2015

In the wake of terror attacks that devastated Paris, we want to affirm that we stand with the people of that great city. Like our own Capitol City, Paris is a river city and the Capitol of France. Whether you’re on the Mississippi, the Potomac, or the Seine, we are connected through our freedoms. Winston Churchill once compared Democracy to the Mississippi River describing liberty as a force that charges on relentlessly like the Mississippi does through our country. We are now more motivated than ever to be in Paris and show our solidarity; we go, however, with a broader mission.

There is much at stake in Paris during the United Nations Climate Meeting, much more than polar bears and inconvenient weather. Our ability to produce food and have access to clean fresh water are also at stake.

River basins generate the majority of the world’s food and rivers sustain the majority of freshwater withdraws.

Changes in our climate are compromising the ability of our river basins to produce food and provide freshwater. Thus, one of the greatest threats to the world from climate change is a dramatic alteration to our food supply and decrease of freshwater. Of the food-producing river basins around the planet, the Mississippi River Basin, which covers thirty-one states, ranks first.

Sixty-five percent of the drinking water in the U.S. comes from rivers and streams. Washington, DC sources its water from the Potomac River; fifty U.S. cities use the Mississippi River alone as a drinking water source providing for over 20 million people. In California, two-thirds of the state’s population (26 million people) depends on the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta fed by the Sacramento River for water supply. Yet, this delta resides adjacent to the Pacific Ocean and is at sea level leaving the fresh water and a tremendous food source vulnerable to ocean-level rise.

The federal programs that protect these resources have endured varied levels of funding over the past several cycles. Programs like the state revolving loans funds, water pollution control grants, and the Land & Water Conservation Fund will need to be treated as sustained priorities to meet what is coming over the next few years

. The worlds’ population is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 meaning we will need to produce more food in the next 35 years than we have in the last ten thousand. As demand for food grows exponentially, we will all need to work together to ensure the food producing- basins are resilient to the impacts of climate disruption. Indeed, according to a 2012 Frontier Economics Report, 24.7 percent of global economic output will come from the world’s ten most populous river basins by 2050 with the U.S. projected to add 50 million people.

After Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Isaac, Hurricane Sandy, 500-year flood events of 2011, and the 50-year drought of 2012, U.S. mayors have something to share about climate disruption and resilience in regards to river basin management. That’s why four of us who are part of a mayoral delegation representing 68 mayor members of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative are headed to the United Nation’s climate change meeting in Paris. We are on a mission to save the world’s rivers, including ours.

As the major food-producing basins of the world become compromised by climate change, mayors are concerned the drop in food output will be compensated for by producing more food in the Mississippi River Valley. If that delta is bridged through conventional agriculture, the result will be devastation to our ecology from the massive amount of inputs used to meet such a demand. We will see the Gulf Hypoxia Zone increase exponentially devastating the Gulf of Mexico which is still recovering from the BP Oil Spill.

Therefore, we will meet with representatives from food-producing river basins to assemble the beginning of what is hoped to eventually be an international River sustainability agreement among food-producing basins that works to protect both the water and food security of the world.

Both the Administration and Congress have been responding to our calls. The U.S. House and Senate formed the bi-cameral Mississippi River Caucus in 2012. The President’s budget has requested more for the PreDisaster Mitigation Grant Program (PDM) for FY 2015 and FY 2016 than in any other time during the program’s 14-year history. Also, the President’s FY 2016 budget proposed a Resilient Landscapes Program within NRCS which is the only climate resilience program that interior cities would be eligible for if you don’t count PDM – a disaster preparedness grant.

The U.S. has played a leading role in food security as well through the Feed the Future Program at USAID. Feed the Future pledged $3.5 billion which leveraged an additional $18.5 billion in support of achieving food security in some of the most food insecure countries on Earth.

We will host talks over two sessions: one to determine the challenges of implementing integrated water management and sustainable agricultural practices and the second to develop solutions on how food and drinking water security may be achieved at an international level. Finally we will unveil the results of the talks on December 8 at 11:45am EST in the United States Center in Paris which can be viewed at

It’s a big task, but we take this seriously. The implications for our river, our nation and our world are too significant to stand by and watch--and hope--others will be a voice.

Mayor Chris Coleman, St. Paul, MN

Mayor Dave Kleis, St. Cloud, MN

Mayor Roy Buol, Dubuque, IA

Mayor Larry Brown, Natchez, MS

Mayors representing cities along the Mississippi River in Paris as part of MRCTI’s delegation include: Chris Coleman, Mayor of St. Paul, MN; Dave Kleis, Mayor of St. Cloud, MN; Roy Buol, Mayor of Dubuque, IA; and Larry Brown, Mayor of Natchez, MS. 

Mississippi River Mayors Lead Food and Water Security Effort at World Assembly of River Basins, 2016

For Immediate Release June 2, 2016

Contact: Jim Gwinner,, 314-791-2774 Representatives are available for interview

MERIDA, MEXICO (June 2, 2016) - A delegation representing the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI) announced new signatories to an international agreement to mitigate climate impact to the world’s food and freshwater supply originally developed during COP 21 in Paris. Mayor Belinda Constant of Gretna, LA, in partnership with the UN Environment Program, the International Network of Basin Organizations, the International Society for River Science, and ecoAmerica, presented today at the First Statutory Session of the World Assembly of River Basins.

Following presentation of the agreement, Mayor Constant presided over a signing of the agreement by river basin organizations comprised of more than 70 nations. “One of the greatest climate change threats to the world is a dramatic alteration to our food supply and decrease of freshwater. Louisiana is the gateway state for the Mississippi’s agricultural output making possible the United Stats’ only trade surplus. Me and my fellow mayors north all the way to Minnesota see the adoption of an international sustainability agreement imperative to saving river basins—including ours—from climate change and major population growth,” said Mayor Belinda Constant, Gretna, LA and MRCTI incoming Co-Chair.

“The adoption of this agreement by these four river basin organizations shows real progress from the work lead by St. Paul Mayor, MN, Chris Coleman in Paris this past December.”

In addition to Mayor Constant, MRCTI was represented by the Association’s Executive Director, Colin Wellenkamp, based in St. Louis. “A significant portion of the world’s food is produced by global corporations. The river basins of the world comprise the most intense areas of agricultural production. Thus, since production is conducted by global entities, river basins need to coordinate and pursue their water and food security interests on global scale as well; representing the world’s most agriculturally productive river, Mayors of the Mississippi are working toward such global coordination,” explained MRCTI Executive Director, Colin Wellenkamp.

The MRCTI agreement was signed today by Mr. Manuel Alejandro Gomez Melchor, President of the North American Network of Basin Organizations; Mr. Normand Cazelais, Secretary General of the North American Network of Basin Organizations; Mr. Lupercio Ziroldo Antonio, Secretary of the Brazilian Network of Basin Organizations; Mr. Ramiro Martinez Costa, President of the Mediterranean Network of Basin Organizations and Tracy Molefi, Chair of the African Network of Basin Organizations.

The agreement seeks to “protect surface and ground waters to ensure food security and access to drinking water” and contains a number of action items around developing a water quantity and quality program. Among these are:

  • developing a robust water monitoring strategy that tracks flows as well as pollutant and nutrient loading;
  • renaturing main-stem and tributary river banks throughout intense agricultural zones; 
  •  employing sustainable agricultural practices such as installation of cover crops and field rotation techniques, use of low flow irrigation, formation of tiered fields, planting of riparian borders, setting of conservation easements, incorporation of integrated pest management techniques, and restoration of forests, grasslands, and river ecosystems.

More than 35 percent of the world’s traditional cropland is located within major global-river basins, producing the vast majority of the world’s food supply. Among these, the Mississippi River Basin ranks first in production capacity. In addition, less than 1 percent of the world’s stock of freshwater is readily accessible by people; of that less than 1 percent, rivers sustain the most withdraws, and yet only account for 0.006 percent of the world’s freshwater. The agreement seeks to mitigate the climate change threat to these basins just as these regions respond to an exploding global population that will require more food production over the next 35 years than in the last ten thousand.

MRCTI is an effort to bring national attention back to the Mississippi River—America’s most critical natural asset—and spearhead a new level of regional cooperation to make it more sustainable. As the ecological linchpin to the 31-state Mississippi River Basin, the River is responsible for creating $400 billion worth of U.S. GDP; providing drinking water for more than 20 million; transporting 40 percent of our nation’s agricultural output; and directly supporting 1.3 million jobs and millions more indirectly. More information is available at

Contact: Jim Gwinner, 314-791-2774

Annual Meeting 2016 Press Advisory

Date: September 7, 2016

Contact: Luke Brown, 314-882-0009

Media Briefing Advisory

SEP 14: Mississippi River Mayors gather to announce: Clean Water Partnership with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.; Marine Highway projects with U.S. Dept. of Transportation; Geotourism site launch for the Mississippi River with Delta Regional Authority, National Geographic, and Big River Strategic Initiative

Press Briefing Part of MRCTI Annual Meeting in Natchez, MS

What                                                                                                                                            More than two dozen river Mayors will hold a press briefing to recommend improvements to disaster mitigation, announce a partnership with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and announce U.S. Department of Transportation Marine Highway projects. These mayors are part of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI), a mayoral-led effort comprised of 75 River Mayors committed to creating a coordinated voice for the Mississippi River.

Immediately following the briefing, Mayors will gather with the Delta Regional Authority, Mississippi River Connections Collborative, and National Geographic to launch a Geotourism Product for the Mississippi River. MRCTI is holding its annual meeting in Natchez, MS from September 13-15. 

When                                                                                                                                    MAYORS’ PRESS CONFERENCE Wednesday, September 14 at 11:30am CT (12:30pm ET) NATIONAL GEORAPHIC LAUNCH Wednesday, September 14 at 12:45pm CT (1:45pm ET)


  • Mayor Darryl Grennell, Natchez, MS (Annual Meeting Host)
  • Mayor Buz Craft, Vidalia, LA (Annual Meeting Co-Host)
  • Mayor Chris Coleman, St. Paul, MN (MRCTI Co-Chair)
  • Mayor Belinda Constant, Gretna, LA (MRCTI Co-Chair) 
  • Mayors: 
    • Hon. Dave Kleis, Mayor of St. Cloud, MN
    • Hon. Dan Bender, Mayor of Red Wing, MN
    • Hon. Bob Gallagher, Mayor of Bettendorf, IA
    • Hon. Russell Loven, Mayor of Guttenberg, IA
    • Hon. Tom Thompson, Mayor of Grafton, IL 
    • Hon. Brent Walker, Mayor of Alton, IL
    • Hon. James Spann, Mayor of Hartford, IL
    • Hon. Francis Slay, Mayor of St. Louis, MO
    • Hon. Emeka Jackson-Hicks, Mayor of East St. Louis, IL
    • Hon. David Lattus, Mayor of Hickman, KY 
    • Hon. Tyrone Coleman, Mayor of Cairo, IL
    • Hon. Harry Rediger, Mayor of Cape Girardeau, MO
    • Hon. Dick Bodi, Mayor of New Madrid, MO  
    • Hon, Bill Luckett, Mayor of Clarksdale, MS
    • Hon. Carey Estes, Mayor of Rosedale, MS
    • Hon. Carl Lewis, Mayor of Beulah, MS
    • Hon. Errick Simmons, Mayor of Greenville, MS
    • Hon. Paxton Branch, Mayor of Tallulah, LA
    • Hon. George Flaggs, Mayor of Vicksburg, MS
    • Hon. Edward L. Brown, Sr., Mayor of St. Joseph, LA
    • Hon. Buz Craft, Mayor of Vidalia, LA
    • Hon. Richard Lee, Mayor of Port Allen, LA
  • Paul 'Chip' Jaenichen, Administrator, Maritime Administration, U.S. Dept. of Transportation
  • Brittni Furrow, Senior Director, Global Sustainability, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
  • Colin Wellenkamp, Executive Director, MRCTI

National Geographic Launch

  • Chris Masingill, Federal Co-Chair, U.S. Delta Regional Authority
  • Frank Baisi, Director of Digital Development & Travel Programs, National Geographic

Where                                                                                                                                                 MAYOR'S PRESS CONFERENCE                                           NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LAUNCH Natchez Visitor Reception Center                                         Carriage House, Stanton Hall Estate 640 South Canal Street (Main Hall)                                       401 High Street                               Natchez, MS 39120                                                                 Natchez, MS 39120

How                                                                                                                                                   Registered reporters may listen live to the Mayors’ Press Conference by calling 712-832-8330 and entering 800 9810. To reserve a spot, email or call Luke Brown at, 314-882-0009.  

Why                                                                                                                                                  In the wake of several natural disasters since January, the Mayors of the Mississippi River have come together with Federal and private sector partners to bring opportunities and hope to the region. MRCTI is an effort to bring national attention back to the Mississippi River—America’s most critical natural asset—and cultivate a new level of regional cooperation to make it more sustainable. As the ecological linchpin to the 31-state Mississippi River Basin, the River is responsible for creating $400 billion worth of U.S. GDP; providing drinking water for more than 20 million; transporting 40 percent of the nation’s agricultural output; and directly supporting more than one million jobs and millions more indirectly.

MRCTI Statement on Brexit & Panama Canal

For Immediate Release June 23, 2016

Contact: Jim Gwinner,, 314-791-2774

Global Events Impact the Mississippi River Valley: Mississippi River has stake in Brexit and Panama Canal Opening

The River and Brexit—The European Union is important to the Mississippi River. U.S. exports of agricultural products to EU countries totaled $11.9 billion in 2013. The EU countries together would rank 5th as an Ag Export Market for the United States. Top Ag exports include: soybeans ($1.5 billion), soybean meal ($860 million), wine and beer ($649 million).

Half of the top ten soy-producing states in the US are along the Mississippi River with Illinois and Minnesota being the first and third producers. Two of the top three beer-producing states in the US are along the Mississippi River – Wisconsin and Missouri.

This trade is made possible by the Union’s open-market system and the les than 3% tariff the Union sustains. The Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership the U.S. has with the Union makes much of this possible.

Britain has the 2nd largest GDP of the EU states behind Germany. A British exit will likely impact the economy of the Mississippi River and may increase the costs of doing business with Europe.

“The volatile nature of global trade today is the exact reason we as mayors are working to increase the number of choices open to the Mississippi River – such as a revitalization of the container economy for the waterway,” said Mayor Slay of St. Louis, MO.

The Panama Canal Opening – The Panama expansion project opens for business on June 26 more than doubling the carrying capacity of today.

“The Gulf Region is projected to realize a 12 percent increase in traffic due to the Canal’s expansion which will bring more cargo to the Port of New Orleans, gateway port of the Mississippi River,” noted Belinda Constant, Mayor of Gretna, LA and incoming Co-Chair of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative.

“The Mayors of the Mississippi River have been working to restore container movement to the River to take advantage of developments like this. Our project has been officially designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation and there are currently several container-on-barge implementation projects under review for Federal grants from the Port of New Orleans to America’s Central Port near St. Louis, added Mayor Hyram Copeland, mayor of Vidalia, LA and Co-Chair of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative.

MRCTI is an effort to bring national attention back to the Mississippi River—America’s most critical natural asset—and spearhead a new level of regional cooperation to make it more sustainable. As the ecological linchpin to the 31-state Mississippi River Basin, the River is responsible for creating $400 billion worth of U.S. GDP; providing drinking water for more than 20 million; transporting 40 percent of our nation’s agricultural output; and directly supporting 1.3 million jobs and millions more indirectly.

More information is available at

Contact: Jim Gwinner, 314-791-2774. 

MRCTI Statement on Release of Mississippi River Basin Report Card


MRCTI Co-Chairs' Statement on Release of Mississippi River Basin Report Card

Report Card Echoes Mayors' Message that the River is Critical to the United States and Requires National Attention

(St. Louis, MO) -- Today, Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis represented the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI) and presented at the release event of the Mississippi River Basin Report Card assembled by America’s Watershed Initiative (AWI) in St. Louis.

As Co-Chairs of MRCTI, we are pleased to have supported AWI and their partners in producing a useful snapshot of the 31-state basin comprised of more than 250 rivers including the Mississippi and its major tributaries.

In examining the results of the Report Card, we can say this with all confidence: ‘If you agree with the findings it is a good thing the mayors have recently come together to make the Mississippi River more sustainable. We have only been organized for three years and in that short time we have seen improvements to the Mississippi River main stem; but, the main stem is only part of a larger system that requires urgent stewardship.’

The Report Card gives the overall basin a D+, a grade, if accepted, validates what the Mayors of the Mississippi River have been saying to States, Federal Agencies, and Congress since 2012: the River is critical to our nation’s prosperity and has been neglected for too long. This neglect is especially prevalent in basin management areas that received the lowest grades. If you look at the grades for areas along the main stem (where mayors have organized thus far) you will see that the worst grades are for the condition of our infrastructure. Those management areas with closer purview to cities certainly have room for improvement, but exhibit better performance overall.

Cities are doing a lot and will continue to grow our efforts, but we can’t do it alone. Only 18 percent of nutrient loading into the Mississippi River main stem is attributable to cities. Also, cities are doing what we can with the resources at our disposal to maintain the infrastructure we have jurisdiction over. State and local governments provided $320 billion of the $416 billion spent on transportation and water infrastructure in 2014.

Last month, Mayors released an economic profile of the Mississippi River that showed the waterway generated more than double the annual revenue for the nation than previously thought, over $400 billion. But, the economy that Mayors highlighted is living on borrowed time if we can’t address our infrastructure needs and improve our water quality. That is why Mayors also announced last month they would begin developing a clean water program that works to implement the clean water goals already set by the ten Mississippi River states.

The Mississippi River Valley has recently seen its share of reports. We as mayors now urge action. There are federal policy steps that can be taken to improve the basin including robust funding for Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds, Section 106 Water Pollution Control Grants, as well as providing adequate resources to bring our infrastructure to a state of good repair.

Whether one believes a grade of D+ is accurate or not, improvement is warranted and will take the total commitment of leaders well beyond just mayors. We, as mayors, stand ready to bring stakeholders together, marshal urban resources, and provide leadership.

MRCTI is an effort to bring national attention back to the Mississippi River—America’s most critical natural asset—and spearhead a new level of regional cooperation to make it more sustainable. As the ecological linchpin to the 31-state Mississippi River Basin, the River is responsible for creating $400 billion worth of U.S. GDP; providing drinking water for more than 18 million; transporting 40 percent of our nation’s agricultural output; delivering nearly 400 tons of coal and petroleum products; and directly supporting 1.3 million jobs and millions more indirectly.

Chris Coleman, MRCTI Co-Chair, Mayor of St. Paul, MN

Hyram Copeland, MRCTI Co-Chair, Mayor of Vidalia, LA

More information at or call MRCTI Executive Director Colin Wellenkamp at 314- 657-3863.