Towards a self-sustaining river: a three part strategy to restore the upper Mississippi River

Year: 
1996
Abstract: 

The Mississippi River is the hardest working river in America: a central artery for commerce, a stormwater management system for the two-thirds of the nation, the central flyway for 40% of the nation's migratory waterfowl. Each of the river's distinct forms of habitat is disappearing: backwater marshes dominated by emergent plants are filling in or, alternatively, becoming open, lifeless turbid waters; floodplain lakes have filled with silt; aquatic plants are not replaced because perpetually turbid waters block light penetration; sediment buries mussel beds and deepwater pools' islands erode, eliminating mast-producing forests. High water tables undermine floodplain forests, which lack higher ground to replace themselves. Restrictions of fish movement by the dams makes the decline of habitat in a particular pool more significant by blocking fish access to habitats in another pool. These problems are exacerbated by current river uses, and by past and present land uses that have altered basinwide hydrology and accelerated the rate at which sediment enters the river. Sediments and nutrients enter the river at unsustainable rates due to past and present land use practices that increase erosion and eliminate wetlands and stream-side buffers. Commercial and recreational vessels resuspend sediments in the water column, blocking light penetration and contributing to the loss of backwaters. Even in its reduced for, the Upper Mississippi represents the last piece of Midwestern America's Great Rivers, supporting migrating waterfowl, endangered mussel species and the most ancient lineage of fish in North America. Whether this system continues to survive and flourish depends on whether dynamic river forces can be sufficiently restored to make the river system self-sustaining. Preserving and restoring the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers requires three types of actions: 1. Recreate dynamic river forces to achieve self-sustaining habitat restoration 2. Minimize the operational impacts of the navigation system 3. Achieve no net increase in sediment by 2010

Author(s): 

Faber, S., Searchinger, T., Ela, J.

Faber, Scott, American Rivers

excerpts of executive summary used as abstract.

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