By Jennifer Wilding, director of Consensus
Farmers, historians, businesspeople, environmentalists, people who make their living taking sand or water from the river, and those whose livelihood depends on recreation all gathered Oct. 2 at a hotel meeting room in Jefferson City. Their job? To discuss how best to restore the Missouri River basin ecosystem. Consensus was selected by the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution to convene the Missouri meeting, one of eight held in states in the river basin.
Congress has required that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restore the ecosystem in order to lessen the loss of habitat and recover native fish and wildlife. (Of 67 native fish species, 51 are now rare, uncommon or decreasing.) The plan requires that the restoration also consider social, economic and cultural values for future generations.
At 30 participants, the Consensus meeting was the second largest of the eight meetings. Each state needed to get answers to the same questions, but each convener had free rein over the meeting design.
Group members began by interviewing one another about values related to the river. Many people who live and work near the Missouri River value its history and culture, ecology and recreational opportunities. But more than anything else, they see it as a source of business. People live near the river because they can farm, transport goods and make a living on tourism. They view it as an asset as well as an unpredictable interference in their lives. The most often mentioned value was balance: the need to balance the natural state of the river against the economic livelihood of farmers, the navigation industry and others.
In general, Missouri participants saw possibilities for the river to add to quality of life and tourism, but those possibilities are not nearly fully realized, with towns often cut off from the river by train tracks and the perception that the river is dirty and dangerous. They also underscored the importance of the river for navigation, particularly navigation in support of farms in the basin, and said that fluctuations in water levels can make navigation difficult.
The group identified opportunities related to the restoration, including joining together to clean up the river, increasing docks and marinas, connecting the river to tourism in river towns and along the Katy Trail, reinventing barges to tailor them to the Missouri (rather than the Mississippi), and “reinventing American” by strengthening small towns.
Consensus puts the public in public policy for clients in metro Kansas City and around the U.S. For more information, visit www.consensuskc.org.