Minnesota conservation groups, farmers and researchers joined a Louisiana-based group on Thursday to discuss threats to the Mississippi River and ways to overcome them.
America's Wetland Foundation, based in New Orleans, is organizing the forums in several cities along the river.
America's Wetland Foundation plans to compile ideas from the various interests attending the forums and come up with recommendations sometime this summer, said Sidney Coffee, a senior adviser for the group.
About three-dozen people from government agencies, conservation groups, private companies and others attended Thursday's meeting.
Whitney Clark, executive director of Friends of the Mississippi River, said the discussions make him hopeful that a broad range of groups interested in helping the Mississippi can reach some consensus on ways to keep the river healthy and sustainable into the future.
"I think it would be helpful to have a federal initiative that could be supported by federal legislation," Clark said. "There's a lot of ways to address some of these issues of sedimentation, agricultural land use, commercial navigation, loss of wetlands, and so what are the specific policy prescriptions, and how can we influence that in a positive way?"
Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne walked attendees through the Mississippi River's history. He then turned to today's struggle in Louisiana related to the river: a dramatic loss of wetlands.
The rest of the country has reason to care about that problem, Dardenne said.
"We need sediment in Louisiana to make sure that we don't continue to lose a football field of land every 38 minutes or so in Louisiana, and it affects the entire nation with that land loss," Dardenne said, "because Louisiana is responsible for so much of the energy produced off the coast of Louisiana that serves the rest of the nation, as well as a large portion of the seafood that America enjoys."
Although some wetland loss is natural, studies have shown the losses in Louisiana have been much more rapid than normal. Agricultural runoff, natural disasters and dams and levees that divert sediment are all contributing to the problem.
The forum's organizers said it is impossible to address wetland loss in the Mississippi River delta without cooperation from the 31 states in the river's watershed.
"Everything that happens upriver impacts the delta. The deterioration of that delta is going to greatly impact the economy and ecology of this river and the economy of this country," Coffee said. "What our goal with these meetings is to develop a sense of cooperation to understand where we can join forces."
The fifth and final forum in the series takes place in April in Chicago.
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