Need for ecosystem management of large rivers and their floodplains
In this article, I describe the importance of large river-floodplain ecosystems and some of the consequences of altering their natural processes, functions, and connectivity. Then I contrast the species-focused management typically employed by natural rescue agencies with the ecosystem approach. I define ecosystem management as working with the natural driving forces and variability in these ecosystems with the goal of maintaining or recovering biological integrity. I focus on flood pulses both because they drive these systems and because the great floods of 1993-1994 in Asia, Europe, and North America heightened public awareness, thereby creating an opportunity to change river management policies.
I draw my examples largely from the upper Mississippi River and Illinois River because I am most familiar with them. They also exemplify both the conflicts between development and conservation of large floodplain rivers that have occurred world wide and the more recent restoration and rehabilitation efforts that are beginning in Europe and the United States.
The Mississippi River and Illinois River comprise the Upper Mississippi River System, which the US congress designated as both a "nationally significant ecosystem" as well as a "nationally significant waterway" in the Water Resources Development Act of 1986.Plans for even greater expansion of navigation capacity are currently being developed by the US Army Corps of Engineers. But federal and state natural resource agencies and several environmental groups fear that the integrity of the upper Mississippi is being compromised. They have issued their own strategies and plans for conserving and restoring the river.