The Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS) is a large floodplain ecosystem that retains important elements of its predisturbance structure and function. It is also a busy waterway transportation corridor. Congress recognized this dual character in 1986, proclaiming the UMRS a “nationally significant ecosystem and a nationally significant commercial navigation system.” Efforts to restore and protect this unique ecosystem have taken a variety of forms, including most significantly the Upper Mississippi River Restoration Environmental Management Program (UMRR-EMP) and the recently authorized Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP).
Upper Mississippi River Restoration Environmental Management Program
The Upper Mississippi River Restoration Environmental Management Program was first authorized by Congress in the 1986 Water Resources Development Act and reauthorized in the 1999 Water Resources Development Act. The UMRR-EMP includes two major parts — the planning and construction of fish and wildlife habitat projects and a long term resource monitoring program. Annual funding is authorized at $33.52 million, but has historically been well below this amount.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has overall responsibility for the UMRR-EMP and directly manages the habitat projects portion of the program, in consultation with other program partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the states of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Restoration techniques include island construction, bank stabilization, dredging, and various types of water control structures.
The Corps of Engineers transfers funding to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center to manage the long term resource monitoring portion of the UMRR-EMP. USGS implements the monitoring program in cooperation with the five states, which operate six field stations on the river system. Monitoring efforts focus on fish, water quality, and vegetation and are augmented by important research efforts and the development of specialized data analysis tools.
A unique interagency partnership provides the framework for the UMRR-EMP’s many restoration accomplishments and contributions to river science. While the Corps of Engineers is ultimately accountable for implementing the UMRR-EMP, it pursues that mission in a genuine spirit of cooperation with its agency partners and interested stakeholders. One of the key elements of this partnership is the UMRR-EMP Coordinating Committee (UMRR-EMP CC), which provides a forum for the Corps to discuss and consider a range of program policy and budget issues with the five states and involved federal agencies. UMRBA coordinates and staffs the UMRR-EMP CC, which meets on a quarterly basis.
Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program
In September 2004, the Corps of Engineers completed a 14-year feasibility study evaluating potential federal investment in navigation improvements and ecosystem restoration on the UMRS. That study resulted in a package of recommendations from the Corps that was endorsed by UMRBA and many other partner agencies and stakeholder interests. Among the highlights of those recommendations were both large and small scale navigation improvements, including the construction of 7 new 1200-foot locks, and a broadly based series of ecosystem restoration measures. Taken together, this integrated package is known as the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program.
On the ecosystem side, NESP will include many of the same approaches tested and proven under the UMRR-EMP, but will introduce important new approaches to cost sharing and significantly increase the level of authorized funding relative to the UMRR-EMP. The NESP authority also explicitly embodies an adaptive management approach to implementing both the navigation and the ecosystem measures.
NESP has not yet received funding for project construction. However, Congress has been funding preliminary engineering and design (PED) work since FY 05. As part of these PED-funded activities, UMRBA and its member states are working with the Corps and other agencies and stakeholders to plan initial projects, determine implementation approaches, and explore options for the interagency coordination framework that will be needed to sustain this ambitious program.
Throughout the feasibility study, as well as during the more recent PED-funded activities, the Navigation Environmental Coordination Committee (NECC) has facilitated collaboration among the partners and stakeholders regarding NESP's ecosystem restoration component and the environmental impacts of the navigation improvements. The NECC meets quarterly, in conjunction with the UMRBA and EMP-CC. Starting in February 2009, UMRBA provides committee support meeting-related services, similar to what it has done for the UMRR-EMP CC for many years.