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River Threat

Mississippi River mayors urge action on new climate report.

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States and cities along the Mississippi River will see billions of dollars worth of climate-related impacts unless "major changes" are made in the near term, according to a group of 85 mayors in cities and towns up and down the river.

The Congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment (NCA) issued last week paints a bleak picture for the Mississippi River Valley and the entire Mississippi River Basin with rising temperatures and rising waters.

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Mayors with the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI) said that "infrastructure, manufacturing, agriculture, and vulnerability are all implicated in this new report with effects alarming to even mayors that have been dealing with these impacts for a number of years already." The group has pushed for changes to fight climate-related catastrophes in the region since 2012.

"The first duty of government is to help ensure the safety and health of the people it represents, so leaders should heed the report's calls for action," said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey in a statement. "Minneapolis is already charting a course toward 100 percent renewable electricity.

"To better protect the Mississippi River — a major force for economic justice and a key source for drinking water — we need to partner with communities, neighboring jurisdictions, and states by following the data and taking meaningful steps to curb climate change."

The Mississippi River Corridor has already sustained over $200 billion in disaster impacts since 2005, according to the MRCTI, with six of the 10 Mississippi River states incurring more than $10 billion in losses for each state. Bettendorf, Iowa, Mayor Bob Gallagher said, though he thought he was prepared, "I was taken aback by some of the findings in the report."

"The NCA states the annual cost of adapting urban storm water systems to more frequent and severe storms is projected to exceed $500 billion for the Midwest by the end of the century," Gallagher said. "More important to my state of Iowa, the assessment says projected changes in precipitation, coupled with rising extreme temperatures before mid-century, will reduce Midwest agricultural productivity to levels of the 1980s without major technological advances."

Like Memphis, other cities in the Southeast are experiencing more and longer summer heat waves, according to the NCA. Of the five cities already reporting more extreme heat waves, three of them are in the South — Birmingham, Raleigh, and New Orleans.

"The urban heat island effect [cities that are warmer than surrounding rural areas, especially at night] adds to the impact of heat waves in cities," reads the report. "Southeastern cities including Memphis and Raleigh have a particularly high future heat risk."

Transportation infrastructure is particularly at risk in Memphis, according to the NCA.

"An extreme weather vulnerability assessment conducted by the Tennessee Department of Transportation found that the urban areas of Memphis and Nashville had the most at-risk transportation infrastructure in the state," reads the report. "Increasing precipitation and extreme weather events will likely impact roads, freight rail, and passenger rail, especially in Memphis, which will likely have cascading effects across the region."

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