Louisiana, as we know it, would not exist without the Mississippi River. Much of our land was created by its sediment. Much of our economy is based on it. Most of our abundant fish and wildlife habitat is here because of it.
In the spring, we often deal with the threat of flood from the river. As each hurricane passes, we are reminded more and more of the consequences of the changes we have made to the river that have eaten away at our coastal wetlands, making our communities more vulnerable and our culture ever threatened.
The health of the Mississippi River and its tributaries and wetlands throughout its entire basin is essential to Louisiana’s well-being. It’s long past time for this country to focus policy on repairing damage to our river from top to bottom.
Congress now has a prime opportunity to do just that. The Senate farm bill has provisions to encourage farmers to preserve wetlands and use simple conservation practices when farming in highly erodible soil.
Under the Senate bill, if farmers opt to receive federal subsidies to help pay crop insurance premiums, they could not drain wetlands on their property and would have to implement a conservation plan if they choose to farm erosion-prone land.
The House bill lacks these incentives.
Louisianans should care about this, especially in light of the enormous amount of fertilizers and nutrients that flow downstream, causing massive dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and complicating coastal restoration efforts. Farmers throughout the river’s basin who don’t practice responsible conservation could send nutrient-laden, polluted runoff downstream, compounding the dead zone and complicating our ability to take drinking water from the Mississippi.
Plus, drained wetlands upstream lose their flood control capacity, meaning Louisiana could face more floods like the one in 2011 that threatened to overtop levees throughout our state.
Federal crop insurance is expected to cost $90 billion over the next 10 years. That’s a whopping price tag. In recent years, the federal subsidy for crop insurance has been the largest subsidy going to farmers. Asking farmers to give back in the form of sound conservation practices is completely reasonable if they want to receive this help from taxpayers. It is, after all, a partnership.
And being a good conservation partner can save millions in costs avoided from devastating flooding and impacts to fisheries, wetlands and our communities from fertilizer runoff.
Let’s hope our members of Congress fight for the Senate farm bill so we can have a sustainable and healthy Mississippi River for generations to come.
Keith Saucier, past president
Louisiana Wildlife Federation