Mississippi River Clean Water Depends on Citizen Support

Last December, a U.S. District Court ruled the Environmental Protection Agency has broad discretion in its application of its Clean Water Act. The upshot: the EPA’s CWA places primary responsibility on states to protect water and the federal government isn’t responsible for setting nutrient criteria for all 50 states.

There were signals ahead of this ruling that litigation wasn’t going to cut it when it comes to setting whole Mississippi River levels for nutrient and phosphorous levels. And if it wasn’t clear last year, the ascension of states-rights advocates clinches the states’ dominance in addressing clean water issues. 

So the federal government appears, in the near-term, to be removed  from cleaning up nutrient and phosphorous pollution in the Mississippi River. What then?

America’s Waterway has always believed the way to a clean Mississippi River was through its residents and stakeholders. It starts with a National Dialogue to create a shared vision for the future of the Mississippi River. After all, how can you decide on cleaning up a river if you don’t know what a clean Mississippi River looks like.

Furthermore, we advocate that a National Dialogue have all the stakeholders — not just those who are available — involved. How do you do that? Large scale dialogues require expertise and equipment. While these cost money, the speed with which deliberation can take place and outcomes can be reached makes this investment small by comparison with years of meetings, repetitive travel expenses, and shifting leadership. And, a National Dialogue’s costs pale in comparison to attorneys’ fees.

What’s to be gained from a shared vision and stakeholder involvement? Capacity, for one thing, and political will at the same time. More importantly, local approaches can be crafted to suit local conditions, another critical feature of a whole-river process. With these essential ingredients, there’s a better way to achieve Mississippi River clean water for the future.

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