Mayors from towns along the Mississippi River met in Washington, D. C. yesterday with hopes of encouraging federal lawmakers to improve the health and economics of the river.
The Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative issued a platform for Congress, calling for water quality improvements, coordination of invasive species efforts, and more funding for the locks and dams.
Prescott Mayor Mark Huber was the only Wisconsin mayor in attendance, although the mayors of Prairie du Chien and La Crosse are also members. Huber says while all the mayors may be focusing on their particular waterfronts, they also have to look at the entire system.
"In Wisconsin and Minnesota, it's primarily tourism and recreational vacation traffic. That's an over $2 billion business to us, so one of our key areas of interest is paying attention to invasive plants and animals that invade the river."
The mayor's initiative, which is funded by the Walton Family Foundation, is working with a newly formed bipartisan Mississippi River Caucus in Congress. Congressman Ron Kind of La Crosse is the only Wisconsin lawmaker who has signed on.
Caucus co-chair Congressman Tim Walz of Winona, Minn. says with the newfound backing, river-related bills could get some traction and rare bipartisan support in Washington.
"It's just a Renaissance of understanding that we have to make the investment necessary in this infrastructure to the Mississippi, but we also have to make sure that things like invasive species and the mayors are pointing out those major things."
Walz says he is disappointed that a new Water Resources Development Act excludes the Mississippi, something he hopes to change. Other proposed bills would find new ways to fund lock and dam upgrades.