New Orleans Living in New Orleans, we depend on the Mississippi River, and in my case, living only a couple of blocks from the great river in a neighborhood appropriately called Bywater, the river is a neighbor. At between 175 and 200 feet deep at the crescent near me, ocean going ships can dock or deliver containers or people here. In the winter, we can hear the foghorns as pilots try to navigate the currents with their barges and boats. Walking Lucha every morning to the river we sometimes stop in amazement at the size of the ships as they tower over us on the docks at the railroad tracks and levee. Almost fifty years ago, I made my one-week vacation a drive north on Highway 61 along the river all the way to its source in Lake Itasca, a word construction from the Latin veritas caput or true head, in Minnesota.
All of which made me curious enough to want to talk to someone from the Mississippi River Network, a 50-organization collaborative that has been pushing legislation called MRRRI or the Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative in Congress. That someone was Mark Peoples, originally from upriver in St. Louis, but now ten miles away in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where the Quapaw Canoe Company, an outfitter and tour operator on the river, are very active in the coalition and its component groups, who visited with me on Wade’s World.
MRRRI’s purpose is pretty straightforward. They want Congress to put up $300 to $350 million for river restoration projects, similar to what Congress has done in the Great Lakes, Everglades, Puget Sound, and Chesapeake Bay. The bill has been introduced by Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota and original co-sponsors Rep. Cori Bush (MO-01), Rep. John Yarmuth (KY-03), Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Rep. Bennie Thompson (MS-02). Peoples was clear that the actual projects hadn’t been determined, and he had no real clue what the chances of passage of the bill might be, but he was adamant about the need for this kind of legislation to protect the river, its wetlands, threatened species, and water quality, and I couldn’t agree more. Another thing the proponents make clear is that the money should be guaranteed to go where it is most needed with at least 25% of annual funding directed to river projects in communities of color or low-income communities that bear a disproportionate impact of river pollution or degradation, with an additional 10% directed to communities that experience persistent poverty.
Peoples knows what he’s talking about having led paddling trips on the river thousands of times over the last dozen years. He’s seen the impact of some work already on species revival in the wetlands and river oxbows. Paddling the river has always been on my list, so I couldn’t resist asking him how they managed the swift and unpredictable currents, and he answered that they do so with a 30-foot long “voyager” type canoe built with cypress that can hold 10 adult paddlers. I can only say, “Wow!” to that!