The largest Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative annual meeting to date produced a few major announcements about the group's commitment to clean water, economic development and tourism officials said Wednesday in Natchez.
The collaboration, led by 75 mayors along the Mississippi River, revealed it has struck a clean water partnership with Walmart in addition to a number of key developments that could spur economic growth along the waterway.
Brittni Furrow, Walmart's senior director of global sustainability, said the retailer is looking to help promote nutrient-reduction best practices.
"We are looking forward to increasing our number of acreage that has nutrient optimization," Furrow said.
With more than 10 years of commitment to sustainability, Furrow said 17 of its largest suppliers, including Kellogg Co. and Pepsi Co., have set practices around grain production and sustainability.
In addition to promoting best practices, Walmart also has established an agricultural retail center of excellence to assist in managing nutrient runoff.
With more than 20 million people from more than 50 cities reliant on water from the river, St. Paul, Minnesota, Mayor Chris Coleman said there is an impetus to sustaining clean water.
Coleman said nutrient loading, primarily from too much nitrogen and phosphorus entering the waterways, remains the top concern.
Besides consumers, Coleman said clean water has far-reaching effects, including a $1 billion effect on tourism because of nutrient loading, pollution and algae blooms.
Referred to as the "ecological linchpin to the 31-state Mississippi River Basin," the river also is an important economic driver in the $400 billion gross domestic product generated as well as its role in transporting 40 percent of the nation's agricultural output.
Paul Jaenichen, an administrator with U.S. Department of Transportation Marine Administration, touted the efforts to further life, jobs and commerce along the Mississippi River.
Besides the department funding the marine highway grant program, which allows for more container and barge projects, one of the projects Jaenichen specifically referred to was a solution to the question of how to utilize empty containers.
Jaenichen said more empty containers would be sent to Baton Rouge, loaded with chemicals and taken to New Orleans, where they would be transported to international locations.
The last critical announcement was launch of National Geographic's geotourism website on the Mississippi River: mississippiriver.natgeotourism.com.
Quad-Cities residents will notice a familiar attraction in Rock Island's Schweibert Riverfront Park with the Centennial Bridge and Davenport in the background on the homepage.
Despite the Mississippi River spanning 2,400 miles from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, there hasn't been a place for tourists to get all the information they need when traveling up and down the river, said Luke Brown, an account associate with the LS2group in St. Louis.
"It's an interactive site that maps out the Mississippi that users and NatGeo can write about landmarks and attractions," Brown said. "There really has not been a really good unified source for information along the Mississippi."