Our Views: Together for the river

The great river that is the source of much of Louisiana’s land, and for centuries one of America’s great arteries of commerce, needs some TLC.

We hope that the states and the United States government take on eagerly and effectively the challenge of managing and improving the immense national asset of the Mississippi River.

“To meet the increasing demands placed on it by so many interests and economic sectors, the river’s health as an ecosystem must be maintained,” was the way U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, aptly summed up the conclusions of a year’s worth of forums and meetings held up and down the river. “The nation should place a renewed emphasis on the Mississippi River’s significance and continue building a diverse coalition dedicated to saving the river for future generations.”

It is a tall order, in part because of the vastness of the river system itself.

There are many issues that impinge on the river’s health because of the impact on the river of its multiple missions. The river is a water supply for both drinking and farms and industries. It is a transmission belt for America’s inland water-borne trade for agriculture and many other lines of business.

It is also an important element in the health of the Gulf of Mexico, a role that is of such vital importance to Louisiana at the river’s mouth.

All of this is a lot to work with and will mean years if not decades of patient spadework by policymakers. Fortunately, the visionary effort of the America’s Wetland Foundation to gin up interest for a collaborative river policy is a strong start.

Spearheaded by Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne of Louisiana, a series of meetings in key river cities brought together the diverse interests that share the use of the river, or its management for flood control. The broad findings of the meetings were presented to Congress this month.

It is a healthy step that environmentalists and industry, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the states, and other sometimes quarreling groups were brought together to talk of the common value of the river and its tributaries.

All too often, the silos along the river farms and ports have been more than matched by governmental silos, focused on their internal goals rather than reaching out to others. A successful national river policy will require bridge-building of which the current talks are a foundation, but one that is well-laid.