Rebuilding a destroyed wetland in Illinois.
Installing a water retention lake in Arkansas to reduce flooding and erosion.
Creating a riverfront park north of the St. Louis Gateway Arch that’s designed to flood when the Mississippi River overflows its banks.
These are some of the projects that mayors along the Mississippi hope will attract private investment in the wake of a new partnership with a global environmental data group. The agreement was announced Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, a group of 80 mayors from Minnesota to Louisiana that collaborates to protect the country’s largest waterway.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who co-chairs the group, said several natural disasters since 2005 have inflicted more than $200 billion in damage in the Mississippi River Valley. The group wants to mitigate that risk by repairing and bolstering the river’s own natural defenses, such as flood plains and wetlands. A healthier river makes economic sense, the mayors say.
The mayors are forming a partnership with CDP North America, part of the United Kingdom nonprofit that boasts the world’s largest collection of self-reported corporate environmental data such as greenhouse-gas emissions and water use. More than 5,000 companies around the world, as well as hundreds of cities, report climate change information to CDP, which distributes the data to more than 800 institutional investors such as big pension funds.
CDP, formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project, branched out into water quality in 2010. It’s one of a number of organizations around the globe working with investors and asset managers to address climate change, such as Boston-based Ceres and the Investor Environmental Health Network in Falls Church, Va. Coleman described CDP as “the world’s premier sustainable project database developer.”
CDP global adviser Paula DiPerna called the new deal “a jobs creation machine.”
The Mississippi River mayors are trying to engage investors even as they rely heavily on federal funding for projects to restore the river. Last spring, they took their $7.93 billion investment proposal to the White House and Congress, largely seeking to preserve existing funding from agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Nearly everything they asked for was funded, said Colin Wellenkamp, executive director of the mayors’ group.
But the future is less certain, and the group needs to cast a wider net, Wellenkamp said. In addition to the collaboration with CDP, the group has proposed allowing corporations to repatriate their overseas holdings and sink the cash into tax-exempt municipal bonds.
In an interview, Coleman said that possible Mississippi River projects in Minnesota could involve storm sewer management in St. Paul and clean energy projects for the former Ford assembly plant site being redeveloped in St. Paul.
The Mississippi has been neglected despite its huge contribution to the U.S. economy, the mayors say. Not only does it provide 80 billion gallons of fresh water each day for drinking, industry and agriculture, but it moves more than half of U.S. corn and soybean exports.
A recent report card on the Mississippi River basin by America’s Watershed Initiative in St. Louis gave the basin a D+ for navigation delays, maintenance needs at locks and dams, water pollution, loss of coastal wetlands, and the size of the so-called dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683