River Talk

Mississippi River Network: Great Effort Toward a Difficult Goal

For more than a decade, the McKnight Foundation's Environment Program has been one of the most important sources of support for many organizations working to protect and sustain the Mississippi River and the life it contains and enriches, both human and nonhuman.


Five years ago, in 2005, the Foundation convened some three dozen of its grantee organizations to consider how they might fruitfully collaborate to make "the whole as greater than the sum of the parts."  What could be done, the Foundation asked, to expand the message and the reach of their groups' work beyond the people already being reached?


The result was the development of the Mississippi River Network (MRN), a consortium of 31 organizations from throughout the length of the Mississippi River valley and in other locations across the country, who have agreed on shared goals and a vision for the future of the Mississippi.  The goals, as listed on the MRN web site are:

Land Goal:  We will restore, protect and reconnect environmentally sensitive lands and will use working lands sustainably on a continental scale.

Water Goal:  We will reduce water pollution, restore the river as habitat, and improve natural processes and features that can reduce flood damage.

People Goal:  We will urge the people of the Mississippi River Watershed and the nation to treat the Mississippi as a national treasure to be protected, restored, enjoyed and sustainably developed, and as a resource that enriches both the economy and the quality of life.

An immediate point to make about these goals is their integration:  only by thinking about how people, land, and water work together will we be able to reverse the decades of degradation that the Mississippi has suffered.  And only by thinking of people, land, and water as integrated systems will we be able to achieve work at the scale that is needed to affect the third largest watershed in the world, the Mississippi River watershed.


A caveat is in order:  The Mississippi River Network consists only of private sector nonprofit organizations, and does not include every one of those groups that is working on Mississippi River sustainability.  There are lots of reasons, of course, why some groups are not included, and it is not my place to make an argument for more inclusion or anything of that nature.  Plus the public agencies at the federal, state, and local level are not represented, although every one of the MRN organizations engages extensively with public agencies.  Those agencies in turn are working together to address issues such as hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.


What is most significant, I think, is that this is a concerted effort to coordinate some of the messages and activities of many of the most dedicated environmental stewards working on Mississippi River issues.  Coordination is very difficult, as anyone who has tried it knows.  The efforts of the Biodiversity Project staff who are working to staff the MRN and to provide assistance through tool kits of media materials and guidance about the diverse audiences that can be reached to influence the future of the Mississippi are to be commended.


One example of the public engagement that the MRN is developing on behalf of its members is the 1 Mississippi Photo Contest.  Everyone has their favorite place on the Mississippi River and all of us have taken photographs to capture the essence of that place.  Go to the contest web site and cast your vote--voting ends next week!



  The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily
  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.