The America’s Watershed Initiative recently released its first Report Card on the Mississippi River Basin, and it got a pretty poor rating of D+. If one of my children brought home a report card like that, there would be heck to pay, to say the least! But under the surface of that overall poor score are some interesting results. This Report Card is based on 6 Goals (Ecosystem Health, Flood Control, Transportation, Water Supply, Economy, and Recreation) and assessed the entire Mississippi River Basin and each of its 5 sub-basins. When you drill down into the Report Card, the Lower Mississippi River also received a D+. Interestingly, Ecosystem Health (C) and Recreation (B) came out better than Flood Control (D), Transportation (F), and Water Supply (D). You can view the Report Card and supporting technical information here.
I’m not sure I fully agree with all of the conclusions of the Report Card, but I am glad that they are conducting this kind of assessment, primarily because I think it provides regular citizens with an easy to understand perspective of how the Mississippi River and its major tributaries are performing for a variety of purposes. The Report Card is visual, easy to read, and the metrics that were used to do the assessment are transparent and easy to replicate, so they’ll be able to come back in a few years to re-assess and chart progress. That’s a good thing.
The GCPO LCC is conducting its own assessment of the Lower Mississippi River and other Mainstem Big Rivers in our LCC geography, assessing overall ecosystem function and integrity of these aquatic systems. Our process is using other metrics, based on endpoints that were developed through our Adaptation Science Management Team and articulated in the GCPO LCC Integrated Science Agenda. These endpoints were primarily designed to assess how aquatic systems function, based on a variety of factors that are considered important for aquatic organisms. Yvonne Allen, our GCPO LCC Aquatic Habitat Analyst, will be presenting this information at our upcoming Steering Committee meeting, which will be held in Asheville, NC, on November 3. You can read more about the assessment here.
While these ecological assessments of freshwater aquatic systems are ongoing, we’re also working with the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP) to expand and refine the species and landscape endpoints that were originally established in the Integrated Science Agenda. These new and improved endpoints should provide our partnership with a much more complete picture of what the desired conditions for aquatic systems in the GCPO LCC should look like, and it will be integrated into the first iteration of a GCPO Conservation Blueprint that we’re working to complete in 2016. Mary Davis, who works with SARP, will be presenting this information to our Steering Committee in Asheville, and you can read more about that work here.
All of this work on the aquatic side of the ledger is incredibly exciting for me as an LCC Coordinator. It’s so important to understand how our aquatic systems are functioning in the southeastern United States, especially as we look at the future impacts that are coming at us. The interactions of climate change and increasing human needs are going to challenge how we deal with water over the next several decades and, I’m sure, for the rest of the century. Already, there are two different lawsuits over water rights between southeastern states that will be heard by the Supreme Court during their current term, which may help to set a precedent on water rights disputes between states for the next several decades. Also, when we look at the Mississippi Alluvial Valley and its outlook for water availability in the future, it’s not clear that there will be enough water to sustain the current agricultural system even if climate change were not a factor. All of this points to the importance of providing a compelling vision of the future water needs for priority aquatic organisms in the GCPO LCC – that includes fish, mussels, crayfish, hellbenders, and all of those aquatic invertebrates that are so critical to a vibrant and viable aquatic ecological system. At the end of the day, our human needs can only be met when we protect our aquatic systems in their holistic sense, and that means protecting all of the other organisms that require a well-functioning aquatic system.