Over the years I’ve been involved in numerous campaigns to obtain the public’s support. From environmental to health care issues , economic impact statements are always a key to making the case for public support.
Oddly, when it comes to the Mississippi, we don’t have centralized, River-wide data to make that case. It occurs to me this may well be one of the reasons the Mississippi continues to be undervalued by the nation. It’s not too different from trying to put together a puzzle without the benefit of the whole picture.
What would the economic picture for the Mississippi look like? There’s the obvious and the not-so-obvious information. When we think of the economics of the America’s Waterway, we logically expect data on shipping. More than likely this would be a calculation based on tons shipped and costs of goods. It might even involve a comparison with other shipping methods such as highways and air transportation.
Tourism is the second obvious economic factor on the Mississippi River. Tourism destinations are used to evaluating their economic impact, so a base of information probably exists. But, in the case of the Mississippi River, tourism’s economic impact would have to include how far tourists traveled to see the River, the number of people traveling the Great River Road and the numbers of people spending time on the River as a destination. It becomes complicated fast, but maybe the Misssissippi River Parkway Commission could begin collecting and publishing their data as a start.
Then there’s the not-so-obvious valuation of the Mississippi River as a natural resource. Often I think we say this is incalculable. But that would be a “cop out”. The fact is in America we don’t respond to threats to natural resources until we put a valuation on them. Fortunately — or unfortunately — this is the American way. So where would we start?
One place that’s already started is in agriculture and academia. Their assessments use crops and seafood. Presently they focus on impacts of the dead zone. While this is valuable information — and great for making the case against nonsource point pollution — it only begins to assign an economic value to the Mississippi River for the country.
Another valuation that could be timely — and might even have started — is the economic impact the new hydropower experimentation will have on energy saving in the U.S. Called hydrokinetic power, a collaboration of the Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research is evaluating this ultra-new technology and its impact on the Mississippi River. Since they are just newly formed, I wonder if they could take on some of the documentation — especially in the hydrokinetic realm — of economic impacts?
These economic factors are all pieces of an extensive puzzle. And the puzzle pieces – like those in a jigsaw puzzle — are individually small and seemingly disparate. But when they all come together, the economic picture they present is not unlike the box cover we need to put a jigsaw puzzle together. Without that box cover, we’re just sorting pieces according to similarities we see in sizes and colors. We need to start building that boxcover framework for the Mississippi, if we are to make the case that the whole river is truly connected.
Please comment here if you know of research being done on econmic impacts along the whole Mississippi River corridor or even in your own region. Help us build the boxcover.