Chesapeake Bay Strategy Offers Context for Mississippi River

In declaring the Chesapeake Bay a national treasure and committing to a robust clean-up effort, President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency are creating a policy context for the futures of great American water bodies. “This is the broadest and most publicly accountable cleanup effort ever seen on the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

While the legislation will be in public comment stage until May, Executive Order 13508 set the tone last May. The draft strategy released this month addresses not only clean water initiatives, but those that would address treasured places, protect wildlife and fish, and climate change impacts.

The most interesting feature of the strategy, from the perspective of other great American water bodies, is the emphasis to empower local efforts because “local governments, watershed organizations and residents have a great interest and ability to restore the environment.”   That’s for sure.  This incorporates a key component of any public policy  — the grass roots.  The draft strategy apparently outlines a Chesapeake Conservation Corps, too, that would be pursued to increase citizen stewardship and engage people in protecting local waterways. This, too, speaks to local citizen involvement.

We applaud this effort to get people involved with the Chesapeake as their waterway. But if this is to be a context for other great American water bodies, why not tap into citizen involvement in a more engaging way as the strategy and legislation are being created?  We know that human beings are more effectively engaged if they feel a sense of ownership. That sense of ownership should be cultivated early in the policy development stage and not wait until the policy is about to launch. We know that the Mississippi River, another great American water body, has many residents interested in its future, and we think engagement starts with building a shared vision for that future.

The premise of a partnership between local governments, people and the federal government isn’t new.  And no doubt a project-oriented vehicle for citizen involvement is a great step toward citizen engagement.  But it comes as an adjunct to federal action.

At America’s Waterway, we’re anxious to see the residents of the Mississippi River — from all walks of life including government, science, economic development and arts and heritage — have a say in the actual policy development through a National Dialogue for the Future of America’s Waterway. Facilitated by AmericaSpeaks, it taps a proven methodolgy for capturing grass roots sentiment and enables it to form the basis for comprehensive approaches to the future.

If you have an interest in seeing more citizen involvement in the federal plan for the Chesapeake, comment at the web site linked above. If you think citizen involvement in planning for great American water bodies — or for any water shed you love — is important, comment on this blog and join with us in this effort on behalf of America’s Waterway.

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