Mayors from 18 cities along the Mississippi River gathered in Washington, DC in March for a series of meetings with Members of Congress and White House officials to press the need to maintain and restore the infrastructure that manages America’s largest waterway. It was the fifth annual Capitol Meeting of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI), an association of 75 Mississippi River Mayors from cities and towns in all ten states bordering the Mississippi River.
MRCTI’s infrastructure plan recommends supporting and strengthening federal programs and funds administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which work together to manage and protect the critical water resource and have the ability to return as much as five times the investment back to heartland taxpayers. The platform also calls for investments to restore the river’s floodplains and ecosystems and modernize its lock-system. The plan – calling for a total investment of $7.93 billion – has the support of several businesses operating along the Mississippi.
The mayors also proposed mechanisms to supplement taxpayer-funded infrastructure with revenue-neutral financing proposals such as repatriating overseas holdings into tax-exempt municipal bonds. The plan, which is based on decades of data on the river’s ecology and economy, highlights the importance of preserving federal data collection capabilities. Federal data collection informs infrastructure-building programs such as the U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Resources Program to monitor water quality.
The river is the linchpin of the nation’s domestic freight and water infrastructure, transporting 40% of the nation’s total agricultural output. The Mississippi’s main stem provides drinking water to 20 million people in 50 cities, and 80 billion gallons of fresh water to industries every day, which rely on a clean and healthy watershed. It is America’s most essential inland waterway, creating the world’s most agriculturally productive zone, the largest navigable water system, and the largest global trade footprint of any inland US waterway. The river generates more than $496.7 billion in annual revenue and directly supports 1.5 million jobs, mostly in manufacturing, tourism, and agriculture. Nationally, the river makes possible the nation’s only trade surplus.
Yet, all these economic benefits are at risk due to both natural and man-made infrastructure decay. Much of the infrastructure along the Mississippi – and across the country – has decayed beyond its design-life, and in many cases is nearing a state of compromise. The American Society of Civil Engineers grades the nation’s infrastructure a “D.” The cost of this decay continues to increase. Infrastructure failures on the Mississippi River alone cost the nation more than $300 million per day in losses.