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Upper Mississippi Tops Endangered-Rivers List

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Environmental groups in the upper Midwest say states such as Iowa face ongoing flood threats because of extreme weather events caused by climate change. (Crystal Dorothy)
Environmental groups in the upper Midwest say states such as Iowa face ongoing flood threats because of extreme weather events caused by climate change. (Crystal Dorothy)
 By Mike Moen, Public News Service - IA - Producer, Contact
April 14, 2020

DUBUQUE, Iowa -- As Iowa and other states brace for more flooding this spring along the Upper Mississippi River, a new report highlights the continued threat facing the waterway.

Each spring, the environmental group American Rivers releases its "Endangered Rivers" report, and this year, the Upper Mississippi tops the list. The report cites the effects of climate change and inadequate floodplain management as key factors driving ongoing flooding problems for the river.

Nate Young, associate director at the Iowa Flood Center, said there needs to be a stronger commitment from policymakers to invest in strategies to mitigate the cycle of rising water levels.

"We invest a lot of money in responding to floods and not enough in trying to get out in front of it and mitigate the risk before the event happens," Young said.

There was record flooding along the Upper Mississippi in 2019. And earlier this year, government forecasters predicted major flooding for certain sections of the river. While some of the projections for this spring have been dialed back, advocates say the annual threat won't go away without comprehensive action.

Olivia Dorothy, associate director at American Rivers, said another key problem is a lack of coordination in flood-management strategy.

"The Mississippi is a federal river because it is the boundary of so many states," Dorothy said. "And so you have to have coordination between the states and with the federal government."

Dorothy said there isn't currently a shared vision between all of these jurisdictions.

The report said vulnerable communities need to have a voice in the decision-making process. And when the country recovers from the economic toll caused by the pandemic, Dorothy suggested major infrastructure upgrades could be one way to modernize flood protection along the river while putting people to work.

Disclosure: American Rivers contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Salmon Recovery, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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