Fishery Resources, Environment, and Conservation in the Mississippi and Yangtze (Changjiang) River Basins

Mississippi River Ecosystem Restoration: The Past Forty-Plus Years

Gretchen L. Benjamin, Angeline J. Rodgers, and K. Jack Killgore

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874448.ch15

Abstract.—Ecosystem restoration of the Mississippi River main stem has been ongoing since the early 1970s. After the passage of environmental laws in the late 1960s to the early 1970s, private citizens and state and federal natural resource agency managers began to seek programs and funding for restoration and conservation that eventually resulted in mitigation measures of adverse impacts. Environmental-type actions that include the Great River Environmental Action Team, the Avoid and Minimize program, the middle Mississippi River biological opinion, and the lower Mississippi River conservation plan and biological opinion originated from laws or legal action. The Upper Mississippi River Restoration, Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program, Restoring America’s Greatest River, and Operation and Maintenance activities, which support system ecological restoration measures, are, to a large extent, done in a cooperative setting to improve the river for multiple benefits. This coalition of agencies and professions has resulted in the application of hundreds of different types of measures to restore form and function to the third largest river in the world. Over the years, dredging and disposal practices have improved in an effort to minimize the impacts from these activities. Lost floodplain islands have been replaced, backwater lakes and channel depths have been recovered, active river flow has been reintroduced to backwaters, and microhabitats for special concern species have been restored, all to recreate broad functional floodplain habitat. Wing-dike and side-channel closure structures have been shortened, notched, or removed to recover flow along the main-channel border and side channels, increasing hydraulic residence time and recovering valuable habitat along with restoring nutrient and sediment assimilation processes the floodplain provides. Field monitoring has shown positive responses from endangered and threatened species, migratory and resident aquatic and wildlife species, abiotic conditions like water quality, and increased use by humans enjoying the benefit of a restored river system. Collectively, this work is some of the most extensive large river restoration in the world, but it only represents a small contribution to what is necessary to maintain a diverse and resilient Mississippi River. The information provided in this chapter provides a basis for continuing restoration efforts that should become a routine part of Mississippi River management.