New levee threatens wildlife habitat and public safety

Washington, D.C.- American Rivers named the Middle Mississippi River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2014 today, shining a national spotlight on the threat a new levee at the New Madrid Floodway poses to wildlife habitat and downstream flood safety. “The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Eileen Fretz of American Rivers. “Cutting off the Mississippi River’s connection with its floodplain would destroy critical fish and wildlife habitat and put communities at greater risk of flooding. The project is completely at odds with modern floodplain management.”

NewMadridFloodwayFigure 3. The Swollen Mississippi River backs up through the gap into the New Madrid Floodway. The St Johns Bayou gravity gate through the set-back levee is at the left. (Photo by David Conrad)

The Middle Mississippi is threatened by a proposal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cut off the last connection between the Mississippi River and its natural backwater habitat in the State of Missouri. The Corps proposes constructing a new 1,500 foot levee across the gap at the bottom of the New Madrid Floodway. In addition to allowing the river to sustain vital habitat, the floodway serves as a “relief valve” allowing floodwaters to spread out on the floodplain instead of threatening downstream communities like Cairo, IL.

“The levee closure project is an unjustified handout to a small group of landowners who farm within this essential floodway. Its completion would only serve to benefit their bottom line while making it politically harder to operate the floodway during an inevitable future flood,” according to Brad Walker, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Rivers and Sustainability Director.

American Rivers and its partners called on the Army Corps of Engineers to abandon the New Madrid Levee project and urged the Environmental Protection Agency to veto the project if the Corps continues to move it forward.

The Mississippi River once experienced seasonal floods that spread out over its floodplain, creating a mosaic of backwaters, wetlands, and sloughs. These periodic floods were the driving force behind robust and diverse ecosystems that were home to an amazing array of fish, birds, and wildlife. The Missouri “bootheel”, located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, was once one of the nation’s largest and richest wetland areas.

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2014

#1 San Joaquin River (California) Threat: Water diversions, dams, and levees

#2 Upper Colorado River (Colorado) Threat: Water diversions

#3 Middle Mississippi River (Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky) Threat: Outdated Flood Management

#4 Gila River (New Mexico) Threat: New water diversions

#5 San Francisquito Creek (California) Threat: Dam

#6 South Fork Edisto River (South Carolina) Threat: Excessive water withdrawals

#7 White River (Colorado) Threat: Oil and gas drilling

#8 White River (Washington) Threat: Outdated dam and fish passage facilities

#9 Haw River (North Carolina) Threat: Polluted runoff

#10 Clearwater/Lochsa Rivers (Idaho) Threat: Industrialization of a Wild and Scenic River corridor

For more information contact Brad Walker.