What to do about a Failing Mississippi River Grade

This is an old Pogo cartoowe have met the enemyn who’s caption, “We have met the enemy and he is US” came to mind when a report card for the Mississippi River showed a D+ grade for its infrastructure. Ironically, a major newspaper story on spending to protect U.S. infrastructure from cyber hacking appeared the same day.

But over the last decade, congress – OUR elected officials – has deliberately and significantly reduced funding for the upkeep of the river’s infrastructure under the heading of national debt reduction, elimination of “earmarks”, and slowing federal government growth. The result: the river’s infrastructure got failing grades and the country’s security is now threatened.

At the same time, cyber hacking has captured the public’s attention and, with it has come the rise of cyber-hacking blockbusters, compliments of Hollywood’s vivid, techno-driven scenarios. It’s not only movie-goers who see the implications for real life, it’s policy makers, too.

Unfortunately, the visual drama of the Mississippi River’s deteriorating infrastructure is far less compelling. The need for upkeep and maintenance pales in comparison to the episodic cataclysm that can be imagined – and vividly portrayed on the big screen – from cyber hacking. In the former, insidious annual budget reductions slowly erode lock and dam systems one chunk of concrete at a time and in one section of the river at a time. The result is the same, however, as the Hollywood-driven cyber images, but the latter strikes fear in the hearts of legislators and the other is allowed to go on endlessly.

mississippi-watershed-map-200xAmerica’s Watershed Initiative’s Report Card should catch our attention, despite its low visual content and policy-laden language. Make no mistake, its implications are just as catastrophic as cyber hacking…. Maybe more. All it takes is one good snowy winter in the Midwest and the mountain states and “kaw-fluey”, we’ll see those visuals…. Guaranteed.

But we can’t say we haven’t been warned. The tests have been given and the grades are in: weak to poor. There’s work to be done. And AWI says, “it will take river-wide collaboration.” It’s time to heed the warnings and hold a National Dialogue for the future of the River’s infrastructure and other needs… before the Hollywood blockbuster becomes a reality.

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