Forty-four Groups Call On President Obama to Protect River Communities
America needs water projects that “protect and restore the natural flood fighting defenses of the nation’s rivers and wetlands.”
(New Orleans, LA—June 22, 2011) A coalition of more than forty conservation and social justice groups from states along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers today called on President Obama to chart a new path forward for protecting the nation’s river communities. The organizations are asking the Administration to modernize the rules that govern the planning of federal water projects to “protect and restore the natural flood fighting defenses of the nation’s rivers and wetlands.”
“It’s been a nerve-wracking spring this year as record floods up and down the Mississippi and Missouri River basins have destroyed homes and businesses, threatened many more, and caused enormous stress and suffering,” said Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director of Gulf Restoration Network, “While there are clearly other contributing factors, there is no doubt that federal water projects and management increased the severity of the current flooding in the Mississippi River Basin and other floods across the country.”
A letter sent to the President from conservation groups, including the Gulf Restoration Network, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Mid South Fly Fishers, Jesus People Against Pollution, Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union, and many more, outlines a strategy to defend river communities and the environment.
In order to better protect Americans at risk of major flooding, President Obama needs to change the way federal water projects like dams and levees are developed. He can do this by modernizing the water resources planning principles and guidelines (the P&G) currently being revised by the Council on Environmental Quality. The Administration is expected to release these new planning guidelines by the end of June.
The P&G will replace outdated 30-year-old standards that promote large, costly, structural projects that typically subsidize commercial development and industry profits at the expense of public safety, taxpayers’ wallets and the environment. These old standards also allow federal agencies to plan water projects that destroy the natural flood fighting defenses of healthy rivers and wetlands and push flood risks onto communities downstream.
“Restoration of river and floodplain systems to reduce flood damage will save us millions of dollars,” said Lorin Crandall, Clean Water Program Director for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. “It is far cheaper to permit nature to restore its fertility, filter pollutants, and absorb floodwaters, than it is to try and make man-made systems that fulfill these functions.”
The groups are asking that the new planning guidelines:
• Require that new federal water projects and investments protect and restore the floodplains and wetlands of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their tributaries, and require that existing federal projects be managed to protect communities from floods;
• Require that federal planners take all steps possible to avoid and minimize adverse environmental impacts and recommend the use of less environmentally damaging alternatives, including nonstructural, water efficiency, and restoration approaches where practicable; and
• Require that federal investments in restoration, including restoration of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, work to restore, enhance, and protect ecosystem functions and processes in order to improve ecosystem health, sustainability, and resiliency, and be cost-effective.
While the problems created by decades of flawed federal planning “will not be solved overnight, they are reversible,” the groups wrote. New planning standards that require federal agencies to utilize the “natural flood fighting defenses of the nation’s rivers and wetlands would provide a vital tool for improving the health, safety, and well being of river communities for generations to come.”
A copy of the letter can be found at: http://healthygulf.org/files_reports/clean_water_act/Group_Ltr_to_Pres_Obama_PG_Floods_June_22_2011_Final.pdf