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The Mississippi River is one of our most important natural assets, providing drinking water to over 20 million Americans. The river’s watershed encompasses 40 percent of the contiguous United States and spans 31 states. The diverse habitats along the river host a globally significant flyway supporting more than 325 species of birds.
That’s just part of why Audubon is excited about legislation introduced today in Congress by Senator Tammy Baldwin (WI) and Representative Betty McCollum (MN) to create the Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative (MRRRI) to focus on systemic, largescale restoration of the Mississippi River.
From the glacial headwaters of Minnesota’s Lake Itasca to St. Louis and New Orleans, the tributaries and wetlands of the Mississippi River are vital to birds and people. The river is a national treasure and boasts tremendous ecological and economic importance for the nation.
Unfortunately, the river is in dire need of restoration and recovery for the birds, wildlife, people, and communities who depend on it. The Mississippi River suffers from excess pollution, invasive species, wetlands loss and destruction, ongoing disruption to its natural hydrology, and extreme storm events exacerbated by climate change.
The new MRRRI program will establish a dedicated federal office within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to work with Tribes, states, local communities, and other decision makers on restoring the river from its headwaters to the mouth of the Mississippi on the Gulf Coast. Audubon is thrilled to see the bill incorporate Tribal consultation, create a specific Tribal liaison position, and direct 5 percent of funds to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be transferred to Tribal governments for MRRRI projects.
The MRRRI program will support projects that improve water quality, restore habitat and natural systems, reduce aquatic invasive species, and build local resilience to natural disasters in and along the Mississippi River. Natural infrastructure—solutions which provide multiple benefits such as enhancing habitats, reducing flood risks to communities, reducing stormwater runoff, and improving water quality—can be used to meet many of the MRRRI goals while also providing climate resilience benefits for communities throughout the watershed.
Audubon looks forward to building support for the MRRRI legislation and stands ready to implement this important program. Our conservation programs are at work restoring critical habitat throughout the Mississippi River watershed and our coasts team is hard at work protecting and restoring areas in the delta. We join all of our MRRRI partners in supporting the creation of this federal program to provide leadership, funding, and guidance to implement a whole river approach.